THERESA MAY and Jeremy Hunt are still in denial about the serious problems in the NHS, as ever more professional bodies call for urgent action.
The Royal College of Nursing has called the state of the NHS “the worst” that its members have experienced. Chief Executive Janet Davies warned that nurses were coming under pressure to discharge patients before they were properly fit to leave hospital. Although nurses were very aware how many people were waiting for treatment – many of them in corridors – they also wanted to make sure every patient received suitable treatment.
The Royal College of Physicians has warned that hospitals are over-full and are too reliant on staff who are not suitably qualified. Its President Jane Dacre told the BBC that demand is higher than ever – as is the number of patients for whom there are no beds. The College also believes that lives are now at risk and that the only solution is for extra funds to be made available as a matter of urgency – a call echoed by the Royal College of Radiologists in its own letter to the Prime Minister.
Seventy five charities involved in supporting the elderly continue to be unimpressed by the Government’s dithering over social care and have called for workable, long-term answers to be put in place to end the crisis.
The voices were raised just 24 hours after the BBC revealed that it had seen leaked documents showing that A&E waiting times are the worst in a decade, with 25% of patients having to wait longer than the four hour deadline.
The Government continues to claim that it is putting more money into the NHS and that the number of qualified staff has increased. It has not commented on whether these increases match the increase in the level of need and/or use of NHS facilities – particularly the heavier load of visits to A&E caused by the difficulty of getting emergency appointments at GP surgeries because of funding cuts to GP services.
The Government is also looking at ways to fiddle around with the numbers to make the problems look smaller. For example, to deal with the huge increase in the number of people waiting longer than four hours in A&E, Health Minister Jeremy Hunt has suggested that people who go to A&E but turn out to have problems which do not need immediate treatment should not be counted in the figures. Not only is this fiddling around with the figures rather than dealing with the problem they reveal, it is also a silly sort of fiddling anyway. People who are assessed at triage (the first assessment stage) as not needing any treatment which A&E can offer will be sent away, not kept waiting on a trolley. It is the volume of patients who are getting substantive treatment which is prolonging the waiting time for the next wave of patients who need substantive treatment too.
The biggest factor in the NHS funding crisis is the huge cost of the PFI projects begun ten to 20 years ago. Although these funded new hospital and hospital refurbishments, the NHS has to pay the private sector firms which did the work massive sums in loan repayments and management fees. However, government policies are not helping either. Desperate for positive headlines about the NHS, the last Government made GP surgeries open at weekends and in the evenings. The extra opening hours are convenient for many people who do not have to take time off work to attend GP appointments – and for their employers. However, the National Audit Office has pointed out that the Government has not assessed the cost effectiveness of the plans. This is particularly important given that the Government is driving forward plans for a “seven day a week NHS” in hospitals too – again, with no apparent scrutiny of whether the proposals are cost effective.