Amid recent scaremongering headlines documenting the somewhat catastrophic situation of our NHS, Online Features Editor Fran Lowe explains why it is vital to our nation that the situation is resolved- quickly.
Over the last few years, I have had to rely on our NHS more than most. Not only am I currently recovering from a nastily broken ankle, but in first year I was so seriously ill that I would not be sitting here today had it not been for an exceptionally skilled surgeon. She told me a few weeks after my operation that she was actually proud of herself that I was still alive. Had nature had its way, I wouldn’t have made it. I have an eternal gratitude to the NHS.
I, for one, was therefore particularly upset to see the recent headlines: “Our NHS is dying,” “NHS stumbles towards a winter crisis,” “A&E crisis”… the list goes on. It’s distressing to see the NHS, which has been one of the stalwarts of British society since 1948, going so quickly down the drain.
Of course, everyone is prepared to have to wait a while when they walk into A&E. Recently, though, A&E waiting times have been unacceptable. The NHS Constitution requires that at least 95% of patients in A&E are seen within four hours, but between October and December last year that figure fell to 92.6%. What’s more, the number of patients waiting that long in 2014 as a whole was nearly double the figure for 2013, rising from 227,400 to 407,844.
Worse still, in the third week of December, only 83.1% of patients considered to be Type 1 admissions- that’s the most severe A&E cases- were seen within the four hour target time. That means an awful lot of patients waiting for unacceptable lengths of time in pain, in distress, and not knowing what’s going to happen to them. Clearly, something has gone horribly wrong with our beloved NHS.
Several factors have been blamed for the NHS’s ‘winter crisis.’ The first, as the name suggests, is that it is winter and people tend to be more ill in winter. Whether it’s people drinking too much and falling over (the embarrassing root cause of my broken ankle), or the elderly getting too cold at home, winter is always a tough time for emergency departments. However, there is surely more going on this year to lead to so much negative press.
Our aging population has been blamed. Old people tend to have more injuries, but what’s more they need more aftercare than the young. What with the rising price of care homes and the cuts to at-home help, hospitals are forced to keep people in where previously they would have known that there would be sufficient care for them elsewhere. That means fewer beds available for fresh emergencies.
But the overriding problem is surely the coalition’s cuts to the NHS. I’m not going to deny that cuts needed to be made when the government was faced with such a severe financial crisis- but the NHS has suffered unduly. Under this government, the NHS has been persistently under threat, with risks of more and more services being privatised, and more and more patients being priced out of the market. The cuts to the health service have come think and fast, and since the coalition came to power in 2010 the NHS has lost over 9000 frontline staff, putting more pressure than ever on an increasingly busy system.
This means that the staff that remain are constantly rushed off their feet, constantly stressed, and at constant risk of burning themselves out. A&E departments are almost permanently running at maximum capacity, causing many of them in recent weeks to declare crisis situations. The next few weeks are going to be vital to the NHS- it is, to use medical terms, in an unstable condition and in need of intensive care.
Despite this, the government is ignoring the problem. David Cameron has been accused of burying his head in the sand, while Lib Dem Health Minister Norman Lamb has said he ‘wouldn’t describe it as a crisis.’ Surely such long waiting times, affecting children and the elderly, and departments being described as ‘bedlam’ are symptoms of a crisis situation? Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham stated that Cameron’s unwillingness to admit the scale of the problem has led to patients all over the country being ‘exposed to unacceptable levels of risk.’
The meltdown of our NHS has been all over the press in the last few weeks. The headlines are surely something that the coalition cannot go on ignoring for much longer. Unless, of course, the coverage is really just scaremongering. Statistics can, of course, be manipulated to make the situation appear far worse than it is. I’ll admit, my own recent A&E experience showed no sign of the colossal waiting times that the papers are so concerned with- although admittedly I did go in in an ambulance at half past one on a Wednesday morning, so was rushed to the top of a probably not-too-long list.
We must remember that there is a general election coming up, and so we must read the papers very carefully. At this stage in the run-up to an election sensationalist headlines are ten a penny, with the press trying to drum up all the angst either against the government or the opposition that they can, and the recent coverage of the NHS crisis is no exception.
Furthermore, such negative coverage is going to do the NHS no favours. People have a tendency to panic as a result of such headlines, and numerous members of our population now probably believe that their local A&E department resembles something you might find in a warzone: busy, chaotic and panicked. This is not the case- busy as they might be, the staff are, in my experience, brilliant as ever, and continue patching people up and saving lives as they have always done. It is questionable, though, how long this will last. It is, surely, only a matter of time before stories about people dying while waiting on a trolley in a corridor hit the headlines.
So the headlines might have instilled a sense of panic in the British public, but, to an extent, this is necessary. Without a functioning NHS, Britain is in trouble, it cannot be denied. Our health system has serious problems, and unless they are acted on as a matter of urgency they are only going to get worse. The solution must be long-term and sustainable though, or we are only going to find ourselves like this again in ten years’ time.
The NHS crisis might be what clinches it for Labour in the next election; while people tend to grow bored of economic and foreign policy during election campaigns, pictures of crying children in hospital waiting rooms have an ability to cut through the drivel and get straight to people’s hearts. It’s emotive subjects like this that influence people’s votes, meaning that should Labour take power in May, they have an incredibly large task ahead of them. Spending is vital, but it needs to be done carefully.
Personally, however, my experiences of the NHS mean I will never resent paying my taxes- I’ve certainly had my money’s worth. The NHS, and Cameron’s disastrous stewardship of it, is also the reason that I will never, ever vote Conservative.
Fran Lowe, Online Features Editorbookmark me