In the past few weeks there’s actually only been a very small percentage increase in number of people visiting A&E compared to the same period last year. But this marginal increase has been having an exponential effect on waiting times. A&E departments are struggling to cope.
The reason for the growing inability of A&E units to cope is down to this government’s policies: slashed local authority budgets mean social care cuts are trapping elderly people in hospital beds as they can’t be discharged safely, widespread hospital and A&E closures and loss of beds are increasing pressure on surrounding areas and meaning A&E patients can’t be admitted and insufficient doctors and nurses are in place to deal with A&E patients.
NHS111 has also been contributing to the pressure. Since it was privatised, it’s been run by non-medical staff who are cheaper to employ but are just following instructions and unable to make clinical judgements and will always err on the side of caution and recommend a visit to A&E.
What is needed is proper long term planning and investment at all levels of the health service from GP to hospital to community care. That means increasing training places, reversing the cuts to general practice, hospitals and social care budgets and ensuring that funding rises to keep up with growing population needs.
Measures that would help ease the current crisis:
1. Halt all planned closures of A+Es and acute hospital beds; make more hospital beds available by taking the “moth-balled” ones back into use.
2. Launch a recruitment drive for more staff and reverse the real terms cuts to NHS staff pay to draw people, who have left or recently retired back into work, on a temporary or permanent basis.
3. Increase ambulance availability – reverse the cuts to the ambulance services and halt the drain of skilled staff out of the service.
4. Put a cash injection into council budgets to fund social care adequately.
5. Make the NHS111 helpline clinician-led by re-employing experienced NHS Direct nurses.
6. Halt the closure of NHS walk-in centres and increase public awareness of the alternatives to A&E.
7. Invest in GP services and reverse the cuts to the GP out of hours services.
It’s interesting that Lord Ashcroft’s poll this week showed that most voters believe the Tory’s NHS reforms were introduced as “part of a plan to privatise the NHS” and to save money, rather than to give more choice or control to patients or to cut bureaucracy.
What we’re seeing in A&E would confirm the public’s fears that patients appear to be far from the government’s top concern.”