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'As trusts struggle to cope, it's time for a rethink'

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The NHS has a tendency to divide people’s opinion. Write about an issue to do with our health service, especially on social media, and you get a lot of debate and often much disagreement. 

But the chorus on Twitter was singing with one voice as it heralded the return of the fantastic BBC2 series Hospital on Monday night.

The tweets that were sparked by this fly-on-the-wall documentary – now in its third series and currently filmed at Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH) Trust – generally demonstrated outrage for the state the NHS finds itself in at present.

There were scenes of staff having to phone patients to cancel non-urgent surgery, hospitals unable to discharge patients who did not need an acute bed but just did not have anywhere to go to, while ambulances queue at the doors of accident and emergency.

Caroline Shaw, chief operating officer at the trust, admitted that the one finally just gone had been the worst winter she had witnessed in her career. It is a feeling many nurses expressed to us last month in our review of the harshest winter for decades.

The same challenges those chief nurses told us about – norovirus, a difficult flu season, a bitterly cold winter and an increasingly ageing population living longer and requiring more complex care – are plaguing every hospital in the country.

And bravo to NUH for being brave enough to open its doors and show the world what life is really like right now for a clinician, manager, patient or relative in this service.

The tweets that lit up my screen during the programme all castigated prime minister Theresa May and health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt for neglecting hospitals and care providers.

Many said they hoped the pair were watching and that it would change their minds about the funding of the NHS. I am not holding out much hope.

I reckon Mr Hunt knows he needs more cash from the Treasury and no doubt he has argued strongly for it – if this week’s headlines hinting at possible government support for tax rises to fund the NHS are correct.

Programmes like Hospital can only help highlight the problems to the public and put pressure on ministers, which is why I feel a lot of pride to know many nurses from Nottingham. They are making a difference to their patients and trying to make a difference to the whole NHS by showing how bleak things really are in our beloved health service.

The first two series, covering similar challenges in the face of adversity at Imperial College Healthcare in London, did precisely the same.

Amid a sea of tweets on Monday using the #Hospital hashtag praising staff at NUH and pouring scorn in the direction of Whitehall, NHS England posted its own message. The tweet said: “Last month 1.4m patients started consultant-led treatment: the vast majority of patients waited less than 18 weeks. We’re working hard to cut long waits and the number of patients waiting over a year for treatment has dropped by nearly 90% since March 2011 to just 1,869 #Hospital”.

I doubt those statistics are a comfort to the 348 people whose operations were cancelled in just one month at NUH.

NHS England has to recognise that it is time for a radical rethink if it is putting this much effort into trying to meet waiting time targets, and yet trusts cannot cope financially, are cancelling operations and find themselves short staffed on a regular basis.

This is not a one-off incident, none of these events are reimagined or dramatised to make good telly. This is real life, day in, day out for our NHS – and something needs to change.

One thing is clear – the staff’s positive can-do attitude is not enough to fix what has been broken by years of abuse and neglect.

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