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Public pressure on government is needed over the NHS crisis

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Will the public realise the NHS is broken before it’s too late?

We read the headlines. We hear people saying it in passing on TV panels. We might even overhear a conversation on a bus.

But it seems to me that the general public has almost no idea what the NHS crisis could mean for them, as demand for services only ever increases and those services need to be ever more complex and expensive.

“The health service’s troubles are all but forgotten by anyone outside of the healthcare community”

Since joining Nursing Times, my eyes have been opened in a variety of ways – not least to the plight of the underpaid and overworked nurses. When it comes to the state of the NHS, the more I read and the more people I talk to, the more scared I get.

It is astonishing how so many people are failing to realise the very real impact it will have on their lives, just when they need it the most. If you remain injury free, fit and healthy, you can probably avoid worrying about the shocking increase in accident and emergency waiting times (up 350%), a surefire indicator that the NHS is struggling – but that is a big if.

It is only from getting closer to NHS staff that I have had the chance to understand what that key A&E measure truly means. A symptom of the lack of funding that leads to chronically over-worked doctors and nurses, or radiographers and orderlies. People whose work directly affects the patient, and when they cannot do their jobs properly, it means the system starts to buckle.

Those in the know have little doubt that things are going to get a lot worse, and with government rhetoric suggesting Trump-esque denial on the true state of things, it is hard to see much, if any, light at the end of an incredibly long tunnel. So the public is not so much sleepwalking into a crisis, but are already in one. They just do not seem to know it yet.

I was encouraged by a poll before the budget, which implied that nearly two thirds of the UK wanted the chancellor to prioritise the NHS in his budget – which he did – although it was quite hard to unpick from his speech what was being promised now or in future, and what was new and what was not.

Yet, because ministers are making such a colossal mess of Brexit, the health service’s troubles are all but forgotten by anyone outside of the healthcare community. Of course, the Brexit vote has seen the pipeline of European Union nurses coming to work in the NHS reduced to a trickle, though at least those already here have now been given a guarantee they can stay in the UK in the long term.

The media are seemingly obsessed with the general theatre of the Brexit negotiations and the personalities involved, rather than the details on what it will mean, with an eye on the next election. But we need the national media to hold Hunt, May et al to account on the NHS. We need the media to convey what it means, practically, to not be able to rely on the healthcare system as it currently is.

For it won’t be until we see the crisis for ourselves that we’ll feel compelled to make it a key talking point. Is that really the best time to find out? When you’re in pain and hoping you can at least get on a gurney for the five hours before you see a doctor?

When I previously wrote a column for Nursing Times, I wrote about how the public needed to support nurses in their fight for better conditions.

In the intervening months, I have come to realise that this goes far beyond simply supporting nurses – the public needs to apply the pressure that will lead to the salvation of the NHS.


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