Nearly two-thirds of doctors believe patient safety has deteriorated over the past year, senior physicians have warned, as the NHS deals with rising demand and an ageing population.
A report by the Royal College of Physicians, based on interviews with 1,500 doctors, found that perceptions over care were worsening in nearly all areas. Amid calls for a relaxation of rules around visa restrictions for healthcare workers, and funding in preventative schemes, the RCP has said the findings are of a system pushed to its limit.
“It is extremely worrying and depressing that our doctors have experienced an even worse winter than last year, particularly when so much effort was put into forward planning and cancelling elective procedures to enable us to cope better,” said president, Professor Jane Dacre. “We simply cannot go through this again - it is not as if the situation was either new or unexpected.”
The NHS Reality Check report found that 64 per cent of doctors believe patient safety has deteriorated over the past year - 10 per cent higher than last year, while 93 per cent had experienced staff shortages - nine per cent higher than in 2017. Four fifths worried about delivering safe patient care, it found, while the only measure to have improved was a four per cent reduction in those experiencing delays in transfers of care.
Doctors are struggling against rising demand, the report claims, faced with an ageing population and the difficulties of maintaining morale when the NHS is underfunded, under-doctored and overstretched.
The RCP said it wants Government to relax visa restrictions for a healthcare workforce, while funding for health and social care must match growing patient need. Finally, the report said, there must be more investment in public health initiatives that reduce a need for treatment.
It comes as the Government announces today it is to inject more than £300m in developing technologies to support an ageing population. Under the plans, set out by Business Secretary Greg Clarke, ministers say they need to “revolutionise” the way people get older to ensure they remain healthy. Among the investments are £210m for new diagnostic tools and treatments, £98m for a healthy ageing programme, and £40m for dementia research.
But Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said it supported the recommendations made in the RCP report.
“The combination of a depleted workforce, intense workload, and chronic underfunding has left our health service on the brink, putting both staff and patient wellbeing at risk,” she said.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We are absolutely committed to making the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world, and more staff would now recommend their care to family and friends than ever before. We know the NHS is busy, that’s why we supported it this winter with an additional £437m of funding, and gave it top priority in the recent Budget with an extra £2.8bn allocated over the next two years.”