We all know that winter is a particularly challenging time for our NHS: I see this first hand from my GP surgery every year. And every year we see those most difficult moments reported widely in the news.
It is of course important that news about the NHS is well communicated to the public, however I’ve always thought it’s a real shame that we rarely take the time to celebrate good news in the NHS and to highlight the fantastic work that is achieved by NHS staff to support the health of our nation.
We often forget how incredibly lucky we are to have a free health service in the UK, which is envied by the rest of the world. So, we should be doing more to focus on the positive rather than the negatives.
Preparations for winter in the NHS take place all year round and recent data from NHS England reveals that compared to last year there have been far fewer A&E closures, half the number of ambulance delays, and flu and norovirus levels remain low. Funnily enough this doesn’t make front page news.
Extra funding to respond to the increased pressures felt by the NHS over winter has allowed for upgrades to emergency departments, wards and bed capacities, as well as increased investment in ambulance services for state-of-the-art vehicles, and greater resource for adult social care. This year has also seen the introduction of the newly available, more effective flu vaccination for the elderly, which is available for free to those most at risk from complications of flu.
It is anticipated that this winter we’ll be able to support 30,000 more people to be cared for at home, helping to free up vital hospital beds for those who need them and avoid the bed issues we often hear about.
The NHS is made up of a variety of services including GP surgeries, NHS 111, pharmacies, dentists and there are great things happening across these services which also deserve to be applauded.
As a GP, the most noticeable change for me this year is that appointments with a GP, nurse or other healthcare professional are now available in the evenings and at weekends, either at your local practice or another nearby NHS service – locally near my practice these are known as the Hub. This is really important for those who work daytime hours and would otherwise struggle to get to an appointment and may default to A&E because they can’t get an appointment. Anecdotally, we have seen quite a positive difference on demand in our practice.
The increased access is part of a new NHS England campaign called Help Us, Help You, which has launched to make it easier for the public to understand what they can do to help themselves stay well and avoid an unnecessary appointment to A&E.
Many people don’t realise they may not need to wait for a GP appointment or head to A&E at all? For minor ailments speak to your local pharmacist before it gets worse. And if you’re ever unsure of the best action to take or right NHS service to use, calling 111 allows you to speak with a qualified advisor who can ensure you get the best care possible. Pharmacists are health care professionals, trained for 5 years and are really well-placed to offer genuine medical advice to many in the community.
All of these services should also be a focus of winter media reporting: in just three minutes across the NHS, 136 people walk into A&E; four babies will be delivered by NHS midwives; 60 people will receive a free flu vaccine; 91 people ring 111; 1,700 people attend a GP appointment and a staggering 1,388 people are helped by a NHS service, according to a new video. So rather than just focusing on the negatives, let’s help people understand how they can get the best out of their NHS.
We have a lot to thank the NHS workforce for this winter. NHS staff make the health service the fantastic organisation it is, and it’s been great to see new initiatives such as We Are The NHS changing perceptions about careers in the NHS, and looking to increase the numbers considering our fantastic workforce – another huge contribution to supporting the ease of NHS services during winter.
Every patient journey is a result of the collaboration of not only doctors and nurses, but admin workers, porters, IT support, and other health professionals.
The NHS has transformed the health and wellbeing of our country, and thanks to the hard work and preparation, we’ve seen improvements in performances this winter. Is it perfect? Of course not. Is there more we could be doing to improve? Of course. But let’s start focusing on the incredible work which is delivered every day by the NHS.