Can we restore our NHS? – This week’s newspaper column
People whose lives could be saved are still dying. Many more suffer life-limiting disability. Frontline NHS staff are still losing the battle to maintain clinical standards; leading to increased stress, falling morale and poor staff retention; and at a time we most need to keep and recruit experienced doctors and nurses etc.
The 20-30 ambulances regularly camped outside Cornwall’s only Emergency Department, often waiting whole shifts trying to offload seriously ill patients, is not just a symptom of the biggest crisis faced by our NHS in its 74-year history. It’s a scandal which needs urgent attention. But government-supporting politicians remain paralysed, tongue-tied …or perhaps they’re just indifferent?
Perhaps if it was their mother who died of a heart attack after waiting 12 hours for an ambulance and a further 6 hours waiting outside Treliske; or their seriously injured wife who had to spend 13 hours at night outside on the ground with a makeshift cover to protect them from the rain waiting for an ambulance; or them being told by a 999 call-handler that there were “no ambulances” available to attend to their father suffering a stroke and could they “find a neighbour who had first aid training” – all cases recently related to me, of the hundreds who have had similar extremely distressing experiences. Perhaps then they would understand? And perhaps then they might stop responding with Tory Central Office identikit template letters assuring complainants that the umpteenth reannouncement of “extra” money for the NHS will soon do the trick.
Cornwall’s hospital managers confirmed to the Health Committee I’m on that there’s one avoidable death every working day, and many more stroke and other patients face avoidable severe, life-limiting and life-changing disability.
I’ve called on Government to find the short-term resources to overcome this crisis. Reopen closed hospital beds, drive recruitment and improve retention with enhanced rewards and safer staffing ratios for all frontline staff. Government must invest in re-structuring the whole health and care system; in proper workforce planning to ensure resilience; underpinning frontline acute services with a primary and community health and social care system with the resources and staff levels able to allow the timely discharge of patients. That of course means we should replace the community hospital beds lost when the Conservatives closed hospitals like Edward Hain and Poltair. And put back resources to ensure our Urgent Care Centre at Penzance can remain open 24/7, as it used to.
• The Liberal Democrats proposed a cost of living/energy crisis plan weeks ago. This includes a proposed energy price cap freeze (now supported by Labour and SNP) largely paid for from a windfall tax on oil and gas company profits.
While the Conservatives are more obsessed with watching PM hopefuls out-Thatcher each other, it’s important that serious problems receive the serious consideration of people with a sincere intention to reduce the burden on those least able to manage.