Should the NHS be used as a political football

As the election campaign continues, Downing Street has taken emergency action to head off winter pressures in the NHS amid growing fears in government that a healthcare crisis could derail the Tory party’s general election campaign.

According to reports, the Prime Minister has been holding regular meetings at No. 10 with the head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, as evidence mounts of lengthening delays in treatment caused by shortages of doctors and nurses. In addition, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has been seeing Simon Stevens every week to assess how to prevent a deterioration in waiting times at hospitals and GP surgeries in the run up to election day on December 12th. 

According to recently released NHS figures, obtained by a freedom of information request, tens of thousands of people had their operations cancelled due to staff shortages and faulty medical equipment in 2018. Furthermore, the number of procedures cancelled by hospitals for non-clinical reasons has increased by 32 per cent in the last two years, with nearly 4000 more procedures cancelled in 2018 than in 2016.

The data show how staff vacancies continue to put the NHS, and its patients, under strain. Last year, the NHS reported it was short of 100 000 staff including, 10 000 doctors and 35 000 nurses while the Nuffield Trust charity estimated the cost of repairing faulty medical equipment across the NHS to be around £6 billion.

What are your views? Should the NHS be used as a political football? Or should the opportunity be grasped to lobby for more staff, better equipment (including up-to-date IT), and improved infrastructure?

Comments (3) Add yours ↓
  1. Nicola Stingelin Ethicist

    Thanks Roger
    Football no.
    But the public need to be more aware that their political choices or abstinence have real consequences for their own health and that of their family and society. It is not a game.

    November 23, 2019 Reply
  2. Peter Rimington Consultant

    In order to effect a real drop in waiting times in the early noughties, the NHS employed large numbers of, mainly South African, surgeons and anaesthetists and paid them very well to do countless operations. That cost a great deal of money but reflected well in the statistics. Then the coffers empty, the Labour government left the stage at a time of international financial crisis. Since then, there has been a relentless real shrinkage of the NHS budget, a large increase in workload and a terrible shortage of available staff at all levels. The ridiculous, populist lists of promises we are now hearing from the party manifestos is so much wishful thinking and one can only pray that the public is not as gullible as the Americans who voted in their current embarrassment for a President.
    The NHS needs to be devolved from party politics much like the Bank of England so that the medical profession aided by civil servants with financial and service delivery experience can make decisions about the total health of the Nation. The use of popular or dare one say celebrity figures to determine medical policy is absurd and financially ruinous. How to preserve the beautiful principal of free health when needed ( needed, not wanted!) is both too precious and too complex to be changed at the whim of those seeking executive office.

    December 1, 2019 Reply
  3. Matthew Perry Consultant Urological Surgeon

    What a difficult question! Election time brings into stark reality the cost of the NHS and the successes or failures of a particular parties term in office. This can help to bring clarity to events as we are seeing now with the promise of extra GP appointments, nurses and doctors (who knows where from!). The current election is again bringing mental health into the frame and highlighting the poor investment in these services over previous governments and decades.
    The downside, however, is that the emotion of an election takes away from serious discussion about how we are going to fund the NHS into the future. What will be covered and what will not? A visit from some Chinese surgeons recently was illuminating, 1.5%GDP spent on healthcare but a paperless system! Efficiencies can be made and will need to be made but never in the heat of an election!

    December 5, 2019 Reply

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