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For the sake of families and staff, let's end this crisis now

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It’s been said for a few years now that the NHS is in dire straits and more recently this has been bumped up to a full-blown “crisis”.

I’ve heard some complain that the word “crisis” has lost its meaning, that it’s become so overused by journalists that it no longer has an impact or basis in reality.

It’s true that “crisis” has become a regular resident in my stories – sometimes from my own vocabulary but usually in quotes from others.

“According to a new parliamentary report, the NHS in England is consistently missing key waiting time targets”

But is the NHS actually in a crisis? To answer that, we should perhaps first turn to the dictionary. My own gives two definitions:

1. A time of extreme difficulty or danger;

2. The time when a problem or difficult situation is at its worst point.

This week I wrote a story that made it completely clear to me that the first is correct in terms of the health service at the moment.

According to a new parliamentary report, the NHS in England is consistently missing key waiting time targets.

Under the NHS Constitution, patients have the right to wait no longer than 62 days for cancer treatment after a referral, and to receive a non-urgent procedure within 18 weeks.

However, MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee have warned that more and more patients are being let down by the continued failure to meet these deadlines.

In fact, the last time the NHS hit these waiting time standards was in February 2016 for elective care, and in 2013 for cancer.

Three years ago, NHS England promised the committee it would improve performance against the 62-day cancer standard, but it has actually got worse since then.

Ill health is never planned and when it happens it can be devastating in ways far beyond the actual diagnosis.

Fear, anxiety and grief are common and will be felt not just by the patient but by their network of family and friends.

On top of the mental toll, the committee found longer waiting times may lead to physical patient harm.

“A difficult and dangerous situation indeed”

However, it says the NHS has “very limited understanding” of this and even accuses national health bodies of “lacking curiosity” about the link between long waits and patient outcomes. A difficult and dangerous situation indeed.

In regard to the second definition, I would like to hope that things cannot go further downhill from here.

In response to the report, Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said shortages of nurses and other clinical staff were “at the heart” of these failures to hit the targets.

She called on the powers-that-be to “focus urgently” on putting together a costed and comprehensive plan to increase the nursing workforce.

I concur; for the sake of the families desperately waiting in limbo, and for the staff struggling to keep the ship from sinking, let’s end this crisis now.

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