Describing the NHS and its A&E departments as being in a state of crisis is an almost perpetual feature in the media today; indeed it’s almost as popular as the infallibly enticing “worst winter for one hundred years” catchphrase. But as the majority of hospital trusts fail to hit A&E waiting time targets, and with some going as far as to declare “major incidents”, it would seem that the health service is genuinely in a state of peril; so much so that even UKIP have been forced out of the headlines.
The target for hospitals in England is that 95% of patients admitted to A&E are seen to within 4 hours. This is seen as being good in the eyes of the government, despite the fact that waiting several hours to be dealt with in reality must be extremely worrying. Currently, 127 trusts out of 140 have missed expectations.
The worst performing hospital has been the Royal Stoke University Hospital with only 61.3% of patients being seen within the target time. There was also a report from a paramedic that at one stage the doors to the hospital’s emergency department were locked to stop further admissions; it’s fortunate, then, that the people of Stoke-on-Trent have an unparalleled knowledge of lock picking.
Despite relentless warnings that hospitals would struggle to cope this winter the government has hardly lifted a finger. Earlier last year it pumped several hundred million pounds into the NHS budget – but considering its annual budget is nearly £100 billion, the phrase ‘drop in the ocean’ comes to mind.
The current troubles in casualty departments are being caused by numerous issues. There is a national shortage of GPs and nurses, putting those available under immense stress and forcing health trusts to recruit staff from abroad in desperate attempts to plug the gaps. Additionally, the seemingly continuous axing of beds means that patients have to spend more time in A&E because there is nowhere else for them to go – not even a manger in a stable.
There are also difficulties with people (like those named Jeremy Hunt) who use emergency departments unnecessarily and cause them to be filled up with non-urgent cases. It would certainly help if people learnt the difference between issues that require the expertise of medical professionals, and those that require Jeremy Kyle.
Personally, however, I believe that the main problem is the bureaucrats responsible for managing the NHS. The people who prioritise trying to save money over trying to save lives (while hypocritically amputating large sums of public cash for their own wages.) Simply, if the health service was run by medical experts, the country would have an expert medical system.
Another huge benefit would be created by reducing the amount of red tape hospitals (and indeed all establishments) have to tackle. Surely it is common sense to reduce hospital bureaucracy, allowing staff to spend more time looking after people? Sadly, common sense is one of the many things past and present governments have lacked: every year since becoming PM David Cameron has announced that he wants to cut red tape, but nothing has come of it.
The short-term solutions to the NHS’s worsening dilemmas are to leave it unaided and watch it continue to crumble, or mindlessly throw in more money and watch it crumble. The long-term solution would be to remove the pen pushers, cut back on the paperwork, and allow health specialists to spend more money in the areas that need it most. Short-term or long-term: which answer is more likely to be chosen?
By James Morris