Some shocking figures for “excess deaths” were published this week. The Times writes that: “Fifty thousand more people died last year than normal, with NHS delays blamed for one of the most deadly 12 months on record.” It adds that there is “compelling” evidence that the crisis in the NHS is killing hundreds of people a week.
In fact already on the 1 January, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine said that as many as 500 people could be dying each week because of A&E delays. Waiting times for December were the worst ever seen, with 12 NHS trusts and ambulance services declaring critical incidents.
One doctor said that he had never seen so many patients in A&E nor seen them so very sick. And let’s be clear. This is nothing to do with NHS strikes. Nor Covid, even. The NHS already had long waiting lists before the pandemic (4.2m as opposed to 7.6m today). Undoubtedly, Johnson’s “easy” solution to turn it into a “Covid-only” service for the past 2 years contributed to this crisis, even if it wasn’t the ultimate cause.
Yes, people are sicker today - they’ve been sitting on conditions which have become worse; their cancers have grown unchecked; they haven’t been able to access tests, let alone their GPs - the possibility of a diagnosis has literally become a virtual nightmare. And then there’s the cost of living crisis. No wonder more have flu and the complications of Covid this winter!
Of course, behind this terminal crisis of the NHS are the policies of both Labour and Tory governments: years of cuts, outsourcing and above all the dismemberment of what used to be a (albeit always under-funded) joined-up, integrated health service, into autonomous “Trusts”... and of course the privatisation of social care.
Imagine even thinking it was OK to make a profit out of health and social care? Well that went through both houses of Britain’s parliament without any hitch! Labour and Tory alike preside over this broken health and social foundation today.
The lack of staff? In 2016, under chancellor George Osborne, the nursing bursary, which offered student nurses at least £10,000 a year in funding, was scrapped causing a 40% drop in student applications. And of course, don’t mention “Brexit” which caused a huge exit of EU workers...
So no, there is no quick fix for the NHS. What might prevent things from getting worse is a 20% pay rise. It could at least help stem the tide of those leaving in despair and exhaustion. But Sunak and Barclay aren’t even offering it.