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The NHS shouldn’t be used as a political football

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In my experience, the ‘NHS winter crisis’ has been little more than a sequence of words that seem to crop up every year or so, get mentioned on the news, then disappear into a fog of yesterday’s news.

Being fortunate enough to have not visited A&E for some time, it’s impossible for me to have imagined what it’s actually like to rely on the service this winter.

Certainly, headlines around the crisis tend to make waves in our nursing echo-chamber. The big headlines, the ones that hit the nationals, tend to come from people who are not fighting the good fight. Just using it to their own – political – ends.

For example, Boris Johnson recently demanded an extra £100m a week be ploughed into the service. It’s a great headline, but he’s hardly bothered if the money doesn’t materialise – that’s not the point.

“What I want to hear is that politicians can come together on bipartisan issues”

Mr Johnson is right – the NHS needs extra funding, and fast – but he’s not saying it for the right reasons, and that’s why I am even more worried about the future of the service than I was before. The people charged with the duty of fixing it are too worried about their own futures to care about that of the NHS.

Yes, Philip Hammond has promised more money, but what I want to see from our leaders is a concerted effort to prevent this year’s extreme pressures from happening next year, and the year after that.

What I want to hear is that politicians can come together on bipartisan issues, and nothing is more universal than the healthcare we all rely on.

All kinds of industries are already planning for next winter. John Lewis will already be working on its Christmas advert, for example, and yet the government hasn’t got around to telling us how it intends to prevent Christmas 2018 from being a war zone in hospitals around the country?

The idea that the NHS winter crisis can be used for political point scoring is as unsurprising as it is offensive. Boris Johnson was even happy to admit his reasoning was based on losing ground to Labour in the boasting stakes. “Well we promised more money than they did!” politics.

“You never know, the person to take the lead on saving the NHS might in turn become a respected politician”

Even Donald Trump’s got his tiny hands even dirtier, using protests against underfunding as an excuse to criticise the NHS – as though nurses were protesting its existence, and not the lack of funding. This week, NHS England figures showed a whopping 5,718 beds were closed due to a spike in norovirus admissions. The RCN’s Janet Davies explained the effect of such a spike. 

’With fewer beds available, it is harder to admit new patients and too many are left waiting on trolleys and in corridors,’ she said. 

’That same shortage of beds means thousands of ambulances each week, often carrying older and vulnerable people, are left queuing at the door of A&E departments for an hour or more.’

Clearly, the pressure isn’t lifting - it’s increasing, and such situations highlight the trevails of the NHS. Indeed, I’d like for Boris Johnson to spend time shadowing nurses inside an A&E, with no lackeys by his side, no photographers to capture his insincere buffoonery – just Boris and the real world. Would he be so quick to use the situation as a political football?

Or would he, for the first time in his life, find a cause worth fighting for, regardless of how it makes him look? Would he demand that winter 2018/19 be sorted out now, while there’s still time?

We’ve got the time and, if Mr Hammond follows through on his pledge, the NHS might have the money it needs. Now we just need someone to put it all together. Someone selfless enough to put the country, and its health system, above the desire to stay in office.

You never know, the person to take the lead on saving the NHS might in turn become a respected politician. Now that’s something I want to believe in.

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