In My View… By Dr Jan Macfarlane, Health & Social Care Coordinator, South East Cornwall Labour
Most readers will have an opinion about the current state of the NHS. Some will have recent experience as patients or relatives, and those anecdotal experiences may be of wonderful caring treatment or instances where things did not go so well.
But to get an objective idea of how well the health service is performing under the current government it is instructive to look at the “report card” produced by the House of Commons Library for February 2019.
Four-hour waits in A&E: the worst on record.
Trolley waits: five times higher than in 2012; the number of 12-hour waits for admission increased by 45% year-on-year.
Waiting list for consultant treatment: up by 46% in the last five years.
Cancer diagnosis and treatment targets: a record 20,000 patients a month suffering delays in seeing a consultant or starting therapies.
Cancellation of urgent operations: increased by 23% over five years.
Waits for home care: more than doubled over the past five years, causing delayed hospital discharge.
These are not just dry statistics. Each figure reflects distressing experiences for real citizens of this country. Long, miserable waits in A&E departments, people waiting weeks to be seen, with the worry of a cancer diagnosis hanging over them, seriously ill patients lying on trolleys for more than 12 hours when they have been assessed as needing a hospital bed.
How can we explain such deterioration in our NHS after nine years of Conservative stewardship?
Money is part of the reason, of course. The average annual percentage funding increase has been 1.2% since 2010, when experts agree 4% is needed to cover the population increase, ageing population and improvements in treatment. Even with the recently and repeatedly announced extra cash, the planned spending will barely be enough for running costs and not enough to repair the damage from eight years of underspending, planned reorganisations or improvements.
Some vital areas of health spending – on public health, education and capital spending on buildings and equipment – will be cut by £1 billion this year.
Crucially, social care cuts – along with the effects of austerity – are feeding rising demand. Spending on social care per adult fell by 13.5% in England between 2009 and 2010 and 2016 and 2017. Council Tax was raised to mitigate these cuts but there is still a huge budget shortfall and unmet need.
But it’s not simply funding that has led to the current crisis. There is a staffing crisis too. Demoralised staff are voting with their feet and leaving the service, leading to 100,000 vacancies in the NHS.
Most importantly, a disastrous reorganisation has led to money being channeled into expensive accounting and tendering processes, diverting money from the “front line”. The increasing award of contracts to private companies diverts resources to shareholders’ pockets. Millions are wasted on the services of commercial consultants.
Yes, it’s complex. But if you want to understand more, come and see the terrific documentary “Groundswell” in Darite Village Hall at 7pm on Monday March 11. Film-maker John Furse will be there to answer your questions. It’s free and all are welcome!
First published in The Cornish Times, 08/02/19