Pressure point

DavidClark.jpgDavid Clark on the dire impact on NHS staff of the Conservative’s running down of our health service

If ministerial rhetoric could solve the problems of the NHS then all would be fine. Sadly, in the real world, rhetoric is no substitute for action. The result is that the government believes its own spin-doctors and simply ignores the greatest crises faced by our health service in all of its 70 years.

International studies show the NHS as the most efficient deliverer of healthcare. With the developments in medical knowledge and technology, the challenges facing the service become complicated. That people are living longer makes this challenge even greater. Ministers simply don’t seem to recognise this basic fact leading to a failure to finance the demands of the British people.

Other developed nations recognise these aspirations and all bar one of the G7 countries spend more on healthcare as a proportion of GDP than the UK. Little wonder, the Head of NHS England, Simon Stevens has argued for an extra £4bn next year. But the Chancellor in his recent Budget statement clearly felt he knew better, offering just £1.6bn.

Across the NHS, staff are struggling to cope – with a critical shortage of (40,000) nurses, short-staffed GPs and almost half of consultant vacancies unfilled. Meanwhile, patients suffer as waiting lists are at the highest level for years.

These alarming facts are the direct responsibility of Health Ministers. The same Ministers responsible exacerbating the nursing shortfall by deciding to cut the numbers in training by over 22,000 in the years 2011 to 2013. Then to make the problem worse, they chose to abandon the well-established bursary scheme and start charging nurses for their undergraduate courses. What a time to attempt such an experiment! And the provisional figures suggest that fewer nurses entered training this year than previously.

The workload of GPs has increased dramatically. Recruitment to UK medical schools has fallen by 13% since 2013 and almost a third of GP partners have been unable to fill vacancies in the last year. As a result, patients are increasingly finding it impossible to get a timely appointment – with the consequence that demand on A&E departments has increased. It’s starting to feel like the bad old days when four hours was the norm.

But the problems go far wider than staffing. Facing an increased winter demand, the government announced that an additional 2000-3000 beds have been found. Those running A&E however, admit that there are only 1000 extra. Patients will have to be treated in corridors and the shortage of basic equipment like drip stands will see doctors ‘hang fluid bags on coat hangers’.

In the past few days, Ministers have argued that the Budget has rectified the problem. Those running the NHS however, see it differently. The National Medical Director tweeted “Worrying that longer waits seem likely/unavoidable”. The NHS Providers stated that “tough choices are now needed and trade-offs will have to be made. It is difficult to see how the NHS can deliver everything in 2018/19.”’

By its very nature, the NHS is a labour intensive organisation yet it being run without either adequate funds or workforce planning. The government has imposed an unfair wage limitation on staff already under great strain. Is it any wonder that many are so demoralised?

Lord David Clark of Windermere is a Labour Peer and a former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Published 28th November 2017

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