Dear Jeremy Hunt,
I WANTED to offer you greetings of the season, even though I know your generosity lacks a Christmas spirit.
I have wanted to write for some time, to commend the health professionals in the NHS in Leeds who have unfailingly helped me with my health crises since January 2015.
I cannot say the same about the agency staff that I have encountered. There must be some excellent professional agency personnel, but my encounters were rather negative and frightening. They have a familiar regime of working many shifts, turning up for work already overtired, irritable and, in those conditions, they may jeopardise patient health. It remains unclear to many why you prefer to undermine nurse training and instead fork out more taxpayers’ money on temporary, more highly-paid, but usually less well trained staff.
The failings of the NHS are daily in the news. If you were on performance-related pay, you would not be receiving a Christmas bonus. But perhaps you will. Perhaps your task has been to oversee the lengthening of waiting lists, the absence of sufficient hospital beds and the volcanic increase in surgical cancellations. Perhaps the Government’s plan is to highlight NHS failings so privatisation, that you are already overseeing, becomes the only rational response to the current crisis?
I have been thinking about you a lot recently because my long-awaited surgery was cancelled at St James’s hospital last month, just hours before it was scheduled to take place.
I had been told in June that the surgery would be in July or August, but with no communication until October when I was finally given a date. Euphoria turned to intense anger, and overwhelming frustration, to hear there just weren’t enough beds because the winter weather delivered an increased seasonal demand on Leeds teaching hospitals.
But that was not the full picture. The truth is that your failure to meet the needs of health provision has meant that there is a continuous excessive pressure on beds in the city which is now no longer relieved in warmer months. The allocation of central funding is simply inadequate to meet demand. You keep repeating the mantra that ‘we are putting more money than ever before into the NHS’ – but this isn’t the point, is it? UK investment in health is among the lowest of all developed economies.
I have never been an advocate for erstwhile PM Tony Blair but his Labour governments did do two important things: reduce child poverty and increase NHS spending as a percentage of GDP.
He increased the percentage spending from 6.3 per cent of GDP in 2000 to 8.8 per cent in 2009. Yet, by then, EU countries were spending 10.1 per cent of GDP on health. GDP is now growing at a faster rate than healthcare expenditure.
If we were to receive the service a country like the UK deserves, and to see it in comparison with average EU spending, (very topical given the Brexiteers’ deceit that the NHS will receive £350m-a-week on EU exit), we will need an extra £43bn to be spent on the NHS by 2020.
Instead of necessary funding increases we only hear the imperatives of austerity. Yet a nation’s health must never be jeopardised by cuts and economic targets. Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust has a strategic plan 2014-2019. It includes the wonderful headline slogans of being patient-centred, fair, collaborative, accountable and empowering for patients.
For any of these laudable mantras to be delivered the NHS needs a massive injection of funds. I still have no new date for my surgery, but have to repeat pre-assessment tests anyway because they are now out of date, an additional use of NHS resources, and I have been told very honestly that even if I got a new date the likelihood is that it will be cancelled: there are just not enough beds.
Ray Bush is Professor of African Studies and Development Politics at the University of Leeds. He is writing in a private capacity.