I read with interest the article by Don Mort ‘NHS battle against winter strain on A&E’. Professor Suzanne Hinchliffe, quoted within the article, seems to strongly imply that an increasing number of older people is the main reason for the pressure on health services and the increase in A&E waiting time.
This is only one of a number of significant factors, such as the ever-increasing price of drugs, while pharmaceutical companies boast ever-increasing profits, and the growth of chronic conditions like diabetes.
But the outstanding reason that our NHS is under the immense strain we are now witnessing is down to the political will of the current Government and the Cameron-led coalition Government before it. This Government has consistently underfunded the NHS. An average of just 0.5 per cent increase annually is, in real terms, a cut and an estimated £20bn-£30bn underfunding compared to countries like Germany, France and Sweden.
The continued austerity agenda contributes to the pressure on A&E departments. The lack of mental health services and chronic underfunding, despite Jeremy Hunt’s disingenuous assertions to the contrary, mean more people do not receive the support they need and end up in crisis; while swingeing £4.5bn cuts to social services mean people are not receiving the support they need, so the NHS becomes the provider of last resort. The unprecedented cuts to local authority budgets result in cuts to services, again often leading to more use of A&E.
When I was young it wasn’t just roads that were gritted in the snow, it was pavements too. If funding was at a reasonable level to deliver adequate public services, how many trips and slips could be prevented?
Then there’s the undermining of staff terms and conditions inevitably causing retention and recruitment issues. Nursing vacancies are at an all-time high of 34,000. Clearly, hospitals cannot operate effectively with such a huge gap in their staffing.
Creeping back door privatisation and the current STP (Sustainability and Transformation Plans) are adding their own problems and they are certainly not sustainable. The West Yorkshire STP is actually seeking cuts of £1bn across the region.
Furthermore, these changes are being pushed through without any Parliamentary accountability or scrutiny. If we don’t act now to keep our NHS public and ensure it is properly funded, the waiting times in A&E will be the least of our problems.