AT a time when the NHS is facing a £30bn funding shortfall, the pressure on services, the frontline staff that deliver them, and the patients who desperately need them, has never been greater.
The scale of the challenge cannot be overstated. One in three people in the UK are aged over 50, the number of over 65s is expected to increase by 50 per cent in the next 20 years, and by 2030 a third of Britons are projected to be obese.
While we’ve seen some remarkable advances in healthcare, with people living longer and survival rates for diseases such as cancer improving, this also means more people are living with life-long conditions, such as diabetes, and have increasingly complex medical needs.
Unless we find a sustainable way of dealing with an unprecedented rise in demand, our health service will not be able to cope, and we will let our patients down.
Productivity in the NHS is rising, as doctors, nurses and other frontline staff are working harder year on year to deliver the best possible care for our patients. But increasing demand has not been matched with investment, despite politicians’ claims that the health budget is protected, leaving many parts of the NHS struggling to cope. Doctors around the country see the reality of this on a daily basis – long queues in our emergency departments, patients left on trolleys because of bed shortages, hospitals being used as a holding place for elderly patients who should be treated, and cared for, in their community.
This year’s patient survey showed that in Sheffield around one in five people found it difficult to get through to their GP surgery on the phone, and after making an appointment over a quarter had to wait more than 15 minutes as GPs giving time to their patients ran late as a result.
Our patients deserve more, but despite GPs working harder to cope with the rising demand, huge funding cuts have left them with tough decisions to make. Do they have to make practice staff redundant and can they maintain the services they offer?
I see exhausted, over-stretched doctors dealing with rising workloads, and for many the NHS is no longer an attractive or even viable place to work. This has contributed to a recruitment and retention crisis.
Young doctors are no longer choosing general practice as a career, training places are going unfilled, and senior GPs are choosing to leave the profession due to the increasing pressures.
This is incredibly worrying. If this situation continues, there simply won’t be enough GPs for the number of patients walking through the surgery doors.
Rising workloads and insufficient resources leave staff unable to deliver the quality of care their patients deserve. Hospitals and GP surgeries are beyond capacity, struggling to meet daily demand, let alone seasonal spikes during the winter months.
Doctors routinely work long hours, and excessive workloads have become a barrier to delivering the best possible patient care. Morale is low. This matters because frontline staff are the beating heart of our health service. The NHS needs a motivated and enthusiastic workforce if it is to rise to the challenges facing it, and staunch the flow of dispirited doctors away from key sectors of medical care.
Doctors have a vitally important role to play in the future of the NHS. We are on the front line day in and day out, which makes us better placed than most politicians to say what is needed to deliver the best possible care for our patients, and ensure the NHS can rise to meet the enormous challenges facing it.
If the NHS is to survive as a public service then we need to get back to a sound foundation – a health service that is properly funded and well staffed, with patients and clinicians in the driving seat. It’s not too late to turn things around, but if we don’t act now it soon will be.
To take part in The Yorkshire Post public debate on the future of hospital care, email email@example.com and include a question. The event will be at Cedar Court Hotel, Huddersfield, on September 22.
Dr Richard Vautrey is a Leeds GP and deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee.