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'Action is needed now for the NHS to survive'

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The slogan “winter is coming”, so famously coined by iconic politico-fantasy series Game of Thrones, could have been an advertisement for the state of the NHS in the run-up to the past few weeks.

For those three ominous words must strike fear into the heart of every leader, clinician and member of frontline staff struggling to keep things together throughout the colder months. The arteries of every hospital, GP surgery and care home are clogged up thanks to almost constant pressure, with demand outstripping supply every “normal” day of the year.

It used to be that winter ushered in a host of cold spell ailments – flu, norovirus, trips and falls – that caused a spike in demand. But these days the NHS – and the wider social care system – is already running at or near full capacity before we even start getting out the holly and the ivy.

It is now time to call it as it really is – this is a permanently broken NHS that needs a long-term fix.

The NHS Winter Crisis special section on the Nursing Times website lays bare the facts of the matter. No one in the NHS is coping admirably, patient safety is at risk and it is time for the politicians to put aside their point-scoring differences if they really care about saving lives – and saving the health service they all claim to hold so dear.

Our winter crisis pages include news and views on key topics including flu, why the NHS is in such a state, and how poor the conditions are to work in right now.

One piece, penned by Janice Sigsworth, the chief nurse of Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust, has really caught nurses’ attention online and on social media. In her article specially written for our NHS Winter Crisis coverage, Ms Sigsworth reveals the difficulties her staff are facing at their five hospitals across the capital.

She recounts that they received over double the number of ambulance visits in a typical day on New Year’s Day (notching up 130), and that it is only the goodwill of staff that is keeping services going. Providing post-operative care to critical patients and supporting patients in high-dependency units with respiratory conditions are real challenges, she states.

It is not a situation unique to London, of course. All over the country, hospitals are struggling to find beds and admit patients. Ms Sigsworth candidly reveals how her staff are devising innovative ways of assessing, diagnosing and working to avoid admissions where possible. But she also records the heartbreak of having to defer operations and then breaking this news to distressed families.

It should not be the job of nurses and doctors to have to deal with such difficulties – the politicians should be the ones facing up to (and “fessing” up to) the mess they have caused by failing to adequately fund and plan for a situation that everyone knew was coming.

As Ms Sigsworth says, with people living longer and with more health conditions that require care, coupled with a workforce in crisis, this situation will only get worse and worse each year. The time for action is now.

I won’t lie, Ms Sigsworth is something of a hero at Nursing Times. She says it like it is. She gets things done and she does the right thing for her patients. She is not a moaner, a whinger and she is not afflicted by a “can’t do” attitude.

When she tells people that a “more radical review is needed”, you really know it is.

So, politicians, if you really want the NHS to survive, it is time to put aside your differences, and make a cross-party pledge to support and fund this health service properly.

This is not about vote winning anymore. It is about protecting arguably the one institution the public – and the people who work in it – care more about than any other. Clinicians are acting with courage, and choosing a different way of working to keep services running this winter. Are politicians brave enough to do the same?

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Readers' comments (1)

  • In order to fund the NHS across the 4 UK countries the British taxpayer currently has to cough up around £150 billion/annum. That is a hell lot of money - it excludes Social Services of course - and to put it in context it is 3 times (!) the size of the UK Defence budget. Earlier this week I watched the early evening news and heard a paramedic in Greater Manchester say that fully 2/3rds of the "emergencies" they were called to attend were inappropriate.

    All 3 major parties in England, Wales and Scotland are struggling cope with the demands placed upon the NHS in their jurisdictions. The time has come to acknowledge that the NHS is unaffordable and unsustainable in its present form. The failure to acknowledge this politically suicidal reality will lead to its breaking down at any of its weakest points (whether that's GP services, A & E or ambulance services .....) and the continued intolerable stresses placed on those in the firing line (especially a nurse exodus). Ultimately people will die avoidable deaths.

    Serious consideration needs to be given to reconstituting the service which may very well require abandoning the holy grail of free-at-the-point-of-use along with charging for those who can afford it and the withdrawal of some services. Simply allocating yet more resources to the service (at the inevitable expense of others) will only delay the inevitable.

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