NHS crisis at all time high

Image: Cian O'Donovan

Image: Cian O’Donovan

It was announced this week that in England, every NHS trust (not including foundational trusts) has failed to achieve the target of treating 95% of patients within a four-hour timespan. The Chancellor has described every case of mistreatment as a “matter of regret”.

Overcrowding and understaffing are rife within NHS hospitals and are leading to poor treatment, long waiting times and a lack of hygiene and dignity for patients.

Obviously we are never going to be able to solve some problems. The population is getting bigger, so there will inevitably be more elderly members of the population requiring assistance.

The chief problem seems to lie in infrastructure – the NHS just can’t cope with the demand. Many hospitals are full, or are not in a good working condition. Sometimes people are told that the hospital they have turned to is without the appropriate staff or equipment, and are asked to search elsewhere. But what happens when a lot of the demand comes from minor injuries? Cut hands, the consequences of getting drunk in an unfamiliar crowd – the NHS was used and abused by many revellers on New Year’s Day taking celebration a step too far.

The solutions to the problems are hardly admirable. To solve the problem of queues and overcrowded wards, the government created in 2013 a new helpline for people with minor injuries. ‘111’ is the non-emergency alternative to ‘999’, and is manned by trained staff who direct callers to the appropriate health service. But this helpline is flawed in both principle and practice: numerous people have called ‘111’ and have either been assessed by call handlers reading questions from a sheet or had no response, and so have made their way to hospitals anyway. Furthermore in principle ‘111’ is not a service that educates people about injuries – people are not informed about what constitutes an emergency and what can be solved with some bandages and aspirin. It is instead a giant signposting service, and because call handlers must make the least-risky decision, it more often than not results in the ambulances being called out anyway.

Elsewhere the government intends to up the staffing of hospitals and cut down on unnecessary services. Despite what the government promises is a strong budget, many readers will be familiar with medical services being reduced or shut down near them. Many hospital workers have suffered salary freezes or have been made redundant – those who don’t lose their jobs have more and more things to contend with at work.

There is no miraculous solution in giving private companies control of hospitals: last week the private owners of Hinchingbrooke Hospital withdrew from their unfulfilled ten-year contract, citing overcrowding and fines for failing to meet healthcare standards as causes of unnecessary expenditure. Private companies are just as at risk of the problems the NHS suffers.

In my opinion the Chancellor must strike a bargain between hospitals and their users. The government must properly and firmly alert the public that entering hospitals with a medical ‘nuisance call’ will only clog up the whole structure and will lead to the suffering of others arguably less fortunate than the person. If we can prevent a problem we should; if we can fix a problem ourselves we should too. At the same time, hospital funding and staffing must both surely rise. There should be fewer managers and office workers and more health workers. Perhaps the British public would be willing to pay a higher tax if it would help the NHS to improve perhaps something worth investigating? The NHS is a battered and weary system, in need of a resuscitation, and the combination of austerity and sneaky privatization is the financial equivalent of donating its blood to a vampire.

3 comments

  1. Or better still instead of the latest Tory announcement to reduce taxes as the public could do with a “holiday of nice meal” after the austerity measures. Why not leave the tax the same or increase slightly and divert this to the NHS to enable services to be properly funded whether in primary or secondary care. Thats what the public deserve!

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  2. 26 Jan ’15 at 3:32 pm

    Connor Donnithorne

    I agree with the premise to a lot of arguments that you have put across Jack. We must make the NHS more sustainable, it must be free to the point of need and delivery and must always be there for the sick and vulnerable in this country. I would make a few observations however. This government has increased heavily the funding going into the NHS: more than any other party dreamt about spending (and was called irresponsible by Labour). I too agree that there needs to be higher levels of personal responsibility and the NHS. It is an interesting debate whether people should pay for the appointments that they miss with GPs (as you do for dentist and chiropractic appointments). Also, drink and drug abuse, obesity and diet-related illnesses are costing the NHS huge amounts of money. There are ways that we can tackle these problems without raising taxes or cutting front-line staff.

    There are points that I disagree with you however. ‘111’ in principle is a good system. People need to make better decisions whether to go to the pharmacy, GP surgery or A and E. I agree that it could be improved – but is a good first step to reducing A&E goers. As you have said, there are more doctors and nurses in the NHS and less managers. There is still too much waste. We need to join up Social and Health Care to make sure that people get better care out of hospital, preventing a huge demand in bed space etc.

    But I will say this. Taxes do not NEED to rise, nor should they. If government is spending too much, cut somewhere else. The NHS is going to demand more and more money as the years go on. We as a country need to take a serious look at the debate. We cannot keep going until it demands an unsustainable % of our GDP. We may have to look at allowing private companies to tender for contracts. We may have to increase charges for prescriptions. Or we may have to further increase NHS government budgets and cut back on other government budgets. Chucking money at the NHS at an unsustainable level will not solve anything for our generation.

    Lastly, Labour have put their red-hands all over this. Introducing the GP Charter allowed GP surgeries to close when people most needed them and on the weekends. People naturally will go to the A&E or hospital if they seek medical attention and cannot get it from their local practice. We can look at other ways of bringing about change to the NHS and making it more efficient without increasing spending and taxes and without threatening the free at the point of need and delivery.

    Let me repeat. I want the NHS to be free at the point of need and delivery for people in this country. We need to make huge and difficult decisions to make sure that that is the case for when we need to use it or our children need to use it in 10 – 20 years time. But let’s not jump of the bandwagon of demanding more taxes to pump money in. This won’t solve the NHS question.

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    • I only wished to suggest an investigation into raising taxes in my last paragraph. The sentence, “Perhaps the British public would be willing to pay a higher tax if it would help the NHS to improve perhaps something worth investigating?”, is unsound (a bad edit, a rarity from Nouse Politics’s editing team) but I didn’t mean to advocate or demand the increase of taxation. I was just aware that several people around the country have said that they might be in favour of paying higher taxes if it means that the NHS will be under less pressure, and I wondered if people might want to look into it or critique it, as you have done.

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