We knew it would come to this. Claims by medical leaders that the NHS has entered “the perpetual winter of Narnia” are no exaggeration – but this is far from fantasy.
Even in the summer months, we have seen hospitals buckling under pressure reminiscent of the worst winter crises in recent memory. From cancer care to A&E, ambulances to psychosis services, the healthcare system is on its knees and there will be no signs of recovery - because all the trends are in one direction. This is no blip. It's a fundamental challenge for the NHS and the social care system.
Make no mistake – this is a direct consequence the Conservative Government’s funding decisions. Starving the NHS and social care services of cash, despite all the warnings from experts, is not just deeply irresponsible. It is profoundly dangerous for patient safety, and no part of the health service is immune from the devastating impact of the funding crunch.
Doctors, nurses and other staff are exhausted. A&E services for children have been suspended due to staff shortages and safety concerns. Rationing of care is now widespread, with a flurry of headlines telling people in need of a knee or hip replacement that they won’t get the treatment they need.
A 20 percent increase in serious incidents requiring an investigation has been reported by ambulance trusts over the last two years, according to figures I recently obtained from NHS England. Most of these were severe delays in ambulances responding to emergency calls, but a worrying number involved – to use the official jargon – ‘sub-optimal care for a deteriorating patient’.
These are real people, vulnerable people, being let down in their hour of need when they rely on the NHS the most. Ambulance crews up and down the country work tirelessly and selflessly. But how can they be expected to provide the safe patient care when they are having to work shifts of up to 18 hours, as has been the case in Norfolk?
Shameless to the bitter end, Brexiteers Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Gisela Stuart rowed back on their deceitful pledge of an extra £350 million per week for our health service – in the very week that the NHS announced some of its worst ever performance figures.
Swinging the axe over social care budgets has only made things worse. A new report by the King’s Fund shows that more and more people are being left to fend for themselves and pay for their own care, with a staggering 26% fewer people getting help from their council compared to 2010.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. While we have often taken it for granted, the NHS is the most treasured national institution, embodying the social solidarity and compassion Britain was once famous for. The Great British public aren’t prepared to just sit back and watch it crumble.
There’s no way round it – the system needs more money if it is to survive. Theresa May must step up to the plate and announce urgent funding in November’s spending review. But we also need to look at the longer term. We have to start looking at new ways to create a healthcare system which is sustainable for future generations.
This is the case I will be making to Liberal Democrat conference this weekend – because no other party is prepared to make the difficult decisions to build an effective, safe and modern NHS. We simply cannot tolerate the status quo any longer – who knows where the distress and suffering will end if we don’t act now.
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