Grand, sweeping statements tend to divide opinion: and the British Red Cross likening the state of the NHS to a ‘humanitarian crisis’ was no exception.
Dr. Paul Robinson, an emergency medicine doctor, feels that, if anything, the term fails to fully capture the chaos of the situation. Meanwhile, the National Director of Acute Care for the NHS, Professor Keith Willett, believes that ‘clearly there is very high demand, but it’s an overstatement at this stage.’
Such disparity of opinion between two specialists can perhaps be explained by the fact that the problem is predominantly to do with a lack of A&E capacity – anyone working on the frontline in this demanding area is evidently more likely to feel the pressure.
A number of recent incidents indicate the severity of the situation, the most extreme of which resulted in the death of two patients who tragically died while waiting in trolleys in a Worcestershire A&E department. It was claimed that the woman had been left waiting for 35 hours after having a heart attack, while the man suffered an aneurysm while still on the trolley. Furthermore, figures show A&E departments shut their doors to patients more than 140 times in December. It is, most certainly, a crisis.
Even though the conditions have certainly escalated over winter, NHS providers started raising their concerns back in September 2016 when Chris Hopson, Chief Executive, compared the circumstances to the NHS’s deterioration in the 1990’s under John Major’s government.
Pointing out that it was a long slow decline, and that it was hard to isolate a single point to sound a warning bell, he nevertheless concluded that ‘NHS trust chairs and chief executives are now ringing that bell.’ Frankly, he could not have made it any clearer.
It sounds simple enough. In order for the institution to recover and function efficiently, it desperately needs funding which, of course, is easier said than done. Yet one would think, after watching the Prime Minister’s first televised interview of the year on Sky News, that the issue cannot possibly be lack of money – apparently, it is the ageing population. According to Theresa May, more funding has been given ‘than required’ – something which NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens was quick to refute in front of the Public Accounts Committee.
The British Medical Association have said that May has shown no sign of fully understanding the scale of the problem. Whispers are starting to circulate regarding the idea that the ultimate outcome of this decline will be privatisation. The NHS is not an institution that we can afford to lose – and Theresa May certainly cannot make it look like she is allowing that to happen.
Historically, the Tories have not had a harmonious relationship with the NHS and the Labour Party are using this to their full advantage. In fact, it is one of the few issues on which the entire party are uniting behind Jeremy Corbyn.
Ultimately, it does seem as though we have reached a point where decisions have to be made urgently. But if our own Health Secretary and even Prime Minister are refusing to acknowledge the severity of the problem, the entire institution is at risk.
Now, more than ever we need to believe in the core founding principle: good health should be available to all, regardless of wealth.