Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The crisis in the NHS

My first article in the Cornish Guardian since my Christmas break looks at the problems being reported in the National Health Service. The article will be in Wednesday’s paper and will be as follows:

It was truly shocking to hear the British Red Cross claim that the NHS is facing a “humanitarian crisis.” Chief Executive, Mike Adamson, said his organisation was “on the front line,” and they had been “called in to support the NHS and help get people home from hospital and free up much needed beds.”

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has somewhat predictably rejected the claims. She preferred to acknowledge there were “huge pressures” on the health service, while arguing that funding had been increased.

But the Nuffield Trust thinktank has found that, in the period leading up to Christmas, “fifty of the 152 English trusts were at the highest or second-highest level of pressure.” The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) has meanwhile expressed its concern that “emergency care in the NHS is at crisis point with the worst performance across the country's hospitals in almost 15 years.”

Here in Cornwall, a Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) for the local NHS is being prepared – one of 44 STPs across the “NHS England” area.

A number of consultation events have – and are being – held. There was a presentation at the recent meeting of the China Clay Area Network which I chaired and I was impressed with the medical professionals who were present. But it is extremely concerning that the whole process is essentially budget driven and central government has set the NHS in Cornwall a ridiculous target of “saving” £264 million in the period to 2020/21.

One former MP has warned that STPs will “merely rearrange the diminishing deckchairs of the NHS” and are a “largely irrelevant diversion into the challenges NHS managers face … and mask the covert political intentions of the Government; a Government which knows full well that it is both starving the NHS of the cash it needs and is recklessly forging ahead with ‘reforms’ which risk undermining patient safety.”

One telling contribution I saw last week came from columnist Steve Richards. He has argued that we should have a referendum on the level of state funding those goes into the funding of health and social care.

He described the present situation as perverse, adding that “nearly all voters recognise that modern health provision is worth paying for … the government needs to raise additional revenue … .yet the obvious cannot be delivered. The government – any government – cannot deliver because it is too scared to raise taxation or is not trusted to do so. With the UK’s uniquely hysterical pre-election tax-and-spend debates no party can win a mandate to raise taxes in order to provide the necessary levels of investment. Before a general election there is pressure on parties to show how they will cut taxes and reduce public spending.” He has a point.

For me, the question is not whether we increase funding for health and social care – it is how we do it!

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