Health Column: The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it

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For people like me – members of Sheffield Save Our NHS – it seems incredible that many of our fellow citizens do not realise that the very existence of our NHS is in danger. How is this possible when the last 12 months has brought on an increased clamour of concern from all quarters – patients, carers, health service staff, unions, British Medical Association, both senior and junior doctors, GPs and health bodies?

Also, of course, they hav been joined by the political parties in opposition to the government. These concerns are sometimes very specific – the closing of accident and emergency departments, closing hospital beds, downgrading maternity services and sometimes more general concerns, for example reductions in quality of care due to understaffing, poor manpower planning and longer waiting lists for important operations. The list of concerns is endless.

Long waits bring not only inconvenience but a real danger that in the long run people deteriorate

These concerns have been expressed as the effects of seven years of austerity on our society and our NHS have become clearer. The health service does not exist in a vacuum – it is an essential part of society and as our society suffers from austerity so the demands increase.

A very important report by NHS Providers, with a revealing title Mission Impossible has recently been published. NHS Providers are the bosses of trusts who deliver frontline services – hospital, mental health and community services. They have analysed what NHS trusts have to deliver from April 2017 and compared it to available funding. The result is an unbridgeable gap with worrying implications for patients and staff. This gap is huge even after the additional money promised by the current government – £2 billion for social care over three years and £320 million to provide GPs at the entrance of every A&E (an untested strategy). They suggest there are two broad approaches to their findings. The first is to deny there is a problem, acting as though delivery of the requirements is achievable, risking setting impossible goals for trusts, misleading the public and placing unsustainable expectations on front-line staff. The second is to recognise that trusts will miss many of their targets and move the goalposts accordingly. Funnily enough you get what you pay for!

Missing targets means firstly longer waits in A&E in uncomfortable and cramped conditions and secondly longer waiting lists for assessment, operations, mental health assessments and treatments. Longer waits bring not only inconvenience but a real danger that in the long run people deteriorate and need more extensive and expensive treatment.

We need an NHS which is adequately resourced and properly planned so that people can get the care they need when they need it.

We now have a General Election and must use this vital opportunity to ensure candidates realise how important this issue is to us.

Here are some suggested questions:

n Will you restore the four per cent real terms average annual increase in the NHS budget which operated until 2011? (This is needed just to stand still)

n Are you opposed to privatising more NHS services? Will you abolish the internal market?

n What will you do about cuts to GP surgeries, hospitals and mental health services?

n How will you ensure adequate staffing, and restore adequate pay and morale in the NHS? Will you fully fund training bursaries?

n Will you oppose the Health and Social Care Act (2012), support the NHS Reinstatement Bill and protect the NHS from private takeover under new international trade agreements?

n Are you prepared to put new money into mental health services including ending discrimination in the benefits system?

These are very general questions and you may have more specific ones based on your own or your family’s experiences. Such questions have great power. Aneurin Bevan famously said: “The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.” Please fight.