Another year, another winter crisis. Once again the NHS is making headlines for the wrong reasons. Hearing that the NHS is at a breaking point seems to be the norm.
Once again we have seen Mrs May and Mr Hunt robotic answers apologising to British people for the state of the NHS and, once again they keep repeating over and over that under their watch the NHS has received more investing than ever and that in last few years they are records numbers of nurses and doctors working on the frontline. According to the government everything is under control and the NHS contingency plans are working well.
Meantime I see another reality. Would you be surprised if I tell you that the NHS crisis could have been completely avoided? The NHS is in dire straits as a consequence of the chronic under-funding over the last seven years. The NHS crisis is a simple conundrum of demand versus offer. This crisis should not come as a shock, it has been forecasted for a long time and in my opinion Mr Hunt has let it happen. The government makes a convenient assumption that the NHS problems are all due to inappropriate use of hospital services. This week I have seen headlines again blaming the current NHS crisis to inefficiencies, drunks, lazy staff or even immigrants.
The answer is a lot easier. The demand for the NHS services is increasing 4% annually on average while the investment is only increasing by 1%. Every year the gap between funding and demand is widening making it more and more difficult for NHS organisations to deliver services and what is more worrying it makes more difficult for staff to deliver safe care.
It is not rocket science. In any other business when you predict an increase of demand you hire more people to ensure the business can meet the surge and deliver an appropriate service. Take for example the Royal Mail. During their busiest period at Christmas they hired an extra 20,000 staff to ensure they cope with demand. You might think that this is common sense, why not doing it at the NHS? The answer is easy, to cope with winter demand the NHS needs more beds, more beds means more staff, more staff means more money and the government has made it very clear that is not prepared to put more money into the NHS. But I’d like to go further and scratch beneath the surface. The government has made the crisis a lot worse by closing more than 15,000 beds in last six years. This loss is comparable to 24 hospitals being closed down!
On the top of that, our government since 2010 have cut Social Care funding by a third. These savage cuts have had a huge impact on the ability to safely discharge patients adding extra pressure to the NHS.
To add to this recipe for disaster there has been a lack of long-term workforce strategy. It is true that there are overall more Nurses and Doctors but the level of vacancies during last year had risen by more than 15%. Official figures estimate that they are currently around 40,000 nurse vacancies and around 10,000 doctor’s vacancies are also unfilled. The rota gaps are unsafe. But what is more worrying is that overall more than 86,000 NHS posts are currently vacant. If you add the pay stagnation on top of the increased hard working condition are you surprise of the current crisis? Staff had had enough and for the first time in history last year they were more Nurses leaving than joining the register.
Last week I had no other option but to put on hold all my projects and meetings and I went back to the front line for the first time in five years to ensure that our hospital was able to cope and patient safety would not be compromised.
The NHS is dangerously understaffed and it’s inevitable that quality of care is affected. All NHS staff are working flat every single day but tired staff make mistakes and mistakes ruin lives but not only for patients, it also ruins staff careers and their dreams. Did you know that NHS negligence claims quadrupled in a decade, costing the NHS more than £1,4bn?
Overall we have an increasing elderly population that did not just suddenly pop up from nowhere. The increase of services demands has been predicted for a while. The NHS crisis could have been easily preventable. Hospitals are running at nearly full capacity all year around. This is a dangerous game because when the demand surges, like every winter, the hospital has nowhere to put patients. Don’t be fooled by thinking is that people are using A&E inappropriately. The majority of these patients are seen and discharged home. They really need a hospital bed but unfortunately the beds are no longer there. The UK trails Europe in hospital bed capacity.
We are the fifth richest country in the world and I find it an abomination that we are only capable of delivering “third world class” services. Up and down the country people are dying waiting for an ambulance, in A&E waiting rooms and in corridors. This is not acceptable! We are playing Russian roulette with people. Let’s hope the next time that one of your family members needs hospital care they get lucky.
I have been saying it for a while but I’m afraid another Mid Staffs scandal will happen soon. We deserve better.