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 (9) 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
  4. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    You couldn’t have a better example of how the NHS is used as a political football than this quote from the Independent two days before the election:
    “ The depths of the NHS crisis have been laid bare by a series of cases of sick children forced to wait hours in A&E departments for hospital beds.
    One 12-year-old with learning disabilities and mental health issues had to stay in an Essex hospital A&E for 57 hours for a specialist bed to become available, a leaked NHS email shows. She was one of four children left “in the middle of an emergency department” because of bed shortages. She was eventually transferred to a bed in London.
    Another child had to wait 17 hours in A&E over the weekend at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, in a case which was not related to mental health.

    The cases followed the surfacing of a photograph showing four-year-old Jack Williment-Barr sleeping on the floor of a Leeds hospital with an oxygen mask on his face and suffering suspected pneumonia. Boris Johnson refused to even look at the picture when shown it by a TV reporter. Bizarrely, Mr Johnson took the smartphone showing the picture from reporter Joe Pike and put it in his pocket. It was only after Mr Pike pointed out what the PM had done that Mr Johnson looked at the image and said: “It’s a terrible, terrible photo and I apologise obviously to the family and those who have terrible experiences in the NHS.”

    December 10, 2019 Reply
  5. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    The triumphant Torres have pledged in their manifesto to add £34 billion to the NHS over five years – trumpeted as the biggest cash boost in the NHS’s history – over five years. However, this figure is not adjusted for inflation, When it is it is smaller than Labour put in over five years last decade, according to fact-checker FullFact.
    The Tories have also drawn attention to their claim to recruit 50,000 nurses though the figure is actually 31,000. 19,000 will be nurses the Tories say will be successfully persuaded to stay.
    They have also said that work on 40 new hospitals has begun. In fact FullFact’s research shows that 38 existing hospitals have received cash to plan for building work between 2025 – 2030, but not to actually start work.
    Let’s see what happens now they are actually in power for the next 5 years!

    December 13, 2019 Reply
  6. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    NHS hospitals in England are performing worse than ever as latest statistics show record delays in A&E and for cancer treatment.

    For the first time every major A&E department in England failed to meet the target of treating patients within four hours.

    Figures published on Friday showed just 81.4% of patients were seen within that time frame in November, compared with 83.6% in October and 87.6% in November 2018.

    Some 118 NHS trusts missed the A&E target of 95% in November. Of those NHS patients who had to wait in A&E, more than 1,000 faced delays of more than 12 hours.

    In another record low performance, figures show the number of cancer patients starting treatment within two months is just 83%.

    December 13, 2019 Reply
  7. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    Despite his main message of the election having been about “getting Brexit done”, Boris Johnson insisted his main priority would now be the NHS, an institution that voters have traditionally trusted Labour more to protect.
    “I frankly urge everyone on either side of what was, after three and a half years, after all an increasingly arid argument, to find closure and to let the healing begin,” Johnson said. “Because I believe – in fact, I know, because I have heard it loud and clear from every corner of the country – that the overwhelming priority of the British people now is that we should focus above all on the NHS.”
    Let’s see how he does!

    December 14, 2019 Reply
  8. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    Quarterly statistics on cancellations published by NHS England for October to December 2019 show there were 23,503 cancellations in the run-up to Christmas last year, representing an increase of 3,337 on the same period the previous year.

    Only 83.7% of patients were seen within 18 weeks to start treatment in December 2019, against the statutory target of 92%. Over 721,521 patients were waiting over 18 weeks for treatment in December 2019, the highest number since May 2008. The number of patients waiting over 26 weeks and 36 weeks also increased to record numbers. Notably, this is the first time the number of patients waiting longer than six months has exceeded 300,000 and the first time those waiting nine months has exceeded 50,000.

    February 14, 2020 Reply
  9. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    Action must be taken now if the NHS is to avoid an even worse winter crisis next year, the chief inspector of hospitals has warned.
    The Care Quality Commission (CQC) said the use of corridors to treat sick patients in A&E was “becoming normalised”, with departments struggling with a lack of staff, poor leadership and long delays leading to crowding and safety risks.
    Professor Ted Baker said: “Our inspections are showing that this winter is proving as difficult for emergency departments as was predicted. Managing this remains a challenge but if we do not act now, we can predict that next winter will be a greater challenge still. We cannot continue this trajectory. A scenario where each winter is worse than the one before has real consequences for both patients and staff.”

    February 18, 2020 Reply

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