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.