Another week, another raft of negative NHS headlines. The latest included a fresh investigation into ambulance response times from BBC News, which revealed that only one of the UK's 13 ambulance trusts is meeting its targets.
A major cause was the rising number of calls to the service. But also significant was the impact of delays in handing over patients to over-stretched A&E departments, which prevented ambulance crews from responding to other patients. Freedom of information requests showed that these delays took over 500,000 hours of ambulance crews' time last year.
TV reports also showed the ageing population's increasing demands on the service; as GP services become more pressurised, paramedics are now often the first line of response to elderly people in need.
It's yet another illustration of the complexity and the interdependency of health services. A delay in one area has a knock-on effect on another (my last blog covered the topic of so-called 'bed blocking' and the interplay between health and social care services).
These stories make for very gloomy reading. The scale and complexity of the NHS's problems seem intractable. With a rapidly ageing population, dwindling public resources and a struggle to recruit high-quality staff, it can seem that there is no hope that things will ever get better.
The other side of the story
But we shouldn't be too downbeat. In my job, I am very fortunate to see the other side of the story. Every day, my teams work with forward-thinking clinicians and healthcare organisations up and down the country - using technology to help them make real improvements in patient care and NHS efficiency.
Take child protection. No-one can recall the tragic deaths of Victoria Climbie and Baby P without feeling horrified and sad that these appalling incidents could have happened in a modern society.
We have collectively wrung our hands about the lack of progress in joining up health and social care services so that the warning signs are picked up earlier and children better protected.
Protecting vulnerable children
But things are changing. The Child Protection Information Sharing project is an England-wide initiative designed to share information from social services with healthcare professionals so they can better identify children at risk.
Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is soon to go live with the project. Here, social services data will be embedded directly into the hospital's own emergency care system, so clinicians are alerted to the fact that they are seeing a vulnerable child before they even start examining them.
Consultant in emergency medicine Haidar Samiei is enthusiastic about the benefits. He said: "Before I have even seen a child, the system will allow me to spot immediately whether they are flagged as vulnerable, and take the necessary steps to safeguard them. I believe it will hugely improve the odds of identifying children as vulnerable when there are no obvious signs of abuse.
"Not only that, it will save hours of work a day for hard-pushed clinicians, helping us focus our efforts on helping safeguard vulnerable children, rather than jumping through hoops to gather information."
Bright ideas from brilliant people
Positive change isn't just the preserve of big national initiatives. The NHS is full of clever, passionate people with brilliant ideas about how to make things better.
For example, the Wingate Medical Centre in Liverpool has completely changed how it handles GP appointments. By introducing an initially phone-led consultation service it has managed to help 40% more patients every day and freed up time to care for more people with complex medical conditions. A few years ago, the practice was rated as the second worst for access to primary care services in the area. Last year the CQC rated the practice as outstanding for access, and for care provided to vulnerable patients and those with long term conditions.
NHS commentator Roy Lilley was so enthused by the potential of the NHS' brilliant people that he set up a new website - The Academy of Fab NHS stuff - to share good ideas and celebrate success.
He says: "The NHS is so much better than it gets credit for, is so much more efficient than people think."
The website is packed with inspiring examples of how services are being improved - from virtual outpatient appointments saving unnecessary journeys in Cumbria to a dementia café improving life for elderly people in a Lancashire hospital. I can recommend a look if you want some pre-Christmas inspiration to counter the NHS gloom.
Maybe you know something innovative that your local GP or hospital is doing to make healthcare better. If you do, don't keep it to yourself - let the Academy know, and spread some seasonal cheer.Suggest a correction