Hospitals across the country continue to buckle under the stress of winter-related conditions — persistent cold weather and a nasty strain of influenza. But the responsibility for this crisis must lie with the government.
Further evidence of the danger patients face this winter were highlighted by the increased ambulance response times for even the patients with the most serious conditions — those waiting with potential conditions such as heart attacks and strokes — for whom every minute is vital.
Emergency Medicine Consultants from 68 hospitals have written to the Theresa May stating the risks to patient safety are “intolerable” and that patients are dying in hospital corridors waiting to be seen by overstretched doctors and nurses.
Unlike last winter, where claims of a “humanitarian crisis” were said by NHS organisations to be overblown, those same organisations are now pulling no punches. Last winter NHS bosses were keen to curry favour with the government. This winter even the NHS Providers’ Chief Executive Chris Hopson has made the unprecedent statement that the “NHS can no longer deliver the standards enshrined in its constitution”.
Hopson highlights year-round bed occupancy rates above the recommended 85%. That is to say, the NHS is running at unsafe levels of bed occupancy even when there isn’t a winter crisis.
Despite the dire warnings by NHS staff last winter, little has been done to provide extra funding, resources, or staff to deal with an expected level of winter demand. The failings of government have been left clearly exposed.
Phillip Dunne, Health Minister has been sacked after he said patients without hospital beds would be able to sit in chairs. Pressure for a response, of any kind, from the government has shown up divisions in the Conservative Party.
Despite it all however, Jeremy Hunt has kept his job as Secretary of State for Health. He has even been given a promotion, responsibility for Social Care has been put under his remit. Hunt’s apology to patients for cancelled operations has infuriated healthcare workers. They want more than an apology for the mess that this Government has created.
Healthcare unions are united in calling for action from the government, but we need more. It’s time for the unions to demand decisive action in particular emergency funding to recruit extra staff and open more hospital beds. Unions need to take action if that is not forthcoming and use their industrial strength to protect patient safety and the long-term interests of the NHS.
The Emergency Demonstration for the NHS on the 3 February must be the start of a campaign for our unions to take a stronger role in exposing, and correcting, these scandalously poor levels of patient care.
Ambulance crews are on the go all the time, every day of the week, at every hour.
But we can tell it’s an exceptionally busy shift when our control room are constantly calling out for crews to respond to “purple calls” the highest priority life-saving incidents. Or when we’re told there are 30 jobs outstanding on the stack when we book on for a shift.
This is how it’s been over the last few weeks. When there’s not enough crews to meet demand, patients are waiting longer for an ambulance and in some cases being told an ambulance is not available. In many situations that means patients’ conditions worsening. Elderly patients who’ve fallen are left on the floor for hours; people who have collapsed go without treatment for long periods. This means stress for emergency ambulance staff.
The headline problem has been ambulances waiting at A&E departments across the country. I’ve heard of four hour waits in my area. It’s down to peaks in demand, lack of staff in A&E to hand over to, and bed shortages in the hospitals so patients cannot be taken from A&E to a ward. Emergency crews, needed out on the road are stood around for hours. It’s absurd!
We also end up taking more people to A&E, those who have less immediate health problems because GPs, mental health services, district nurses are over stretched too. That makes the situation even worse.
Two consistent major issues for staff are very limited training and the lack of support and respite time. Such things get completely squeezed out at this time of year, they treated as if they are luxuries.
Staff often work an extra hour on top of a 10 or 12 hour shift. Every day is exhausting.