Home » The NHS has already collapsed, we just won’t admit it

The NHS has already collapsed, we just won’t admit it

by WorldFinance
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nurses nhs strike december

As ministers and health workers deal with the aftermath of the strikes – and prepare for another round in the new year –a surprising wave of emotion has taken hold of both groups: one of quiet relief. As far as both groups are concerned, the NHS did not collapse during either the nurses’ walkout or the ambulance workers’ strike. There were no major reports of people queuing out in the cold to even get through the hospital doors. No big uptick in the number of emergency patients left waiting hours on end for an ambulance to arrive. With the Government and unions ready to point the finger at the other side if death numbers spiked, it has come as a great relief to both parties that such an ugly blame game was not necessary in the end. It has also emboldened people in their positions. NHS workers are more confident that they can walk out without seriously harming their patients; ministers are more convinced that they don’t need to cave to wholly unreasonable pay demands. With both groups in broad agreement that the NHS didn’t collapse, the emphasis can be put back on the politics and pay disputes. Concerns about patient safety placed on the backburner, for now. But are we really so convinced health services did not collapse? The broad agreement between government and unions on this point is, for me, as red a flag as they come. Apart from the walls of every hospital caving in or the ground opening up and devouring every NHS building whole, surely how we define “collapse” is up for debate. And if we dare bring the NHS’s remit into our considerations, including its commitment to “deliver high quality services for all”, then not only did the health service collapse around the strikes: it has been collapsing for quite some time. The reason that we didn’t get harrowing images of people queuing outside hospitals or people waiting for hours for an ambulance is not because there was a lack of demand for these services during the strikes. It’s because those people who needed the support of healthcare professionals (once again) did as they were asked by the health service and stayed away. Rather than risk an NHS embarrassment of patients turning up for necessary operations with no one there to assist them, an estimated 70,000 appointments were cancelled across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with those patients now waiting weeks, possibly months more to get treatment. For many, this will be yet another delay on top of Covid delays, which were coupled with messaging to “stay at home”. NHS management insists “stay at home” messaging wasn’t supposed to apply so heavily to the health service; and even started its own campaign in the latter half of the lockdowns to get people back to the GP. But it’s telling that as soon as the brand risks looking embarrassed, like it can’t cope with the needs of its patients, very similar instructions return. The so-called “advice” published by NHS England to guide patients through December’s industrial strike actions repeatedly suggests that if the NHS didn’t consider yours to be the “most clinically urgent case”, expect to wait. Considering that in normal operating times it’s taking almost 50 minutes for ambulances to turn up for classified “emergency” patients, it would have been reasonable for patients to read the strike guidance, which asked them to use the service “wisely”, as an indicator that most of them shouldn’t bother at all. And that’s exactly what happened. The morning of the ambulance strike saw calls to the West Midlands Ambulance Trust fall by 70pc, according to the Health Service Journal. Patients knew they wouldn’t get picked up, so they didn’t bother trying, opting for private transportation to the hospital instead – or waiting it out at home. Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS confederation, admitted around the strikes that ‘we cannot guarantee patient safety, we cannot avoid risks in the context of this industrial action.’ That warning will apply to the aftermath as well: so many cancelled appointments and decisions to stay home rather than seek help will inevitably result in plummeting recovery prospects for at least some of the patients affected by these strikes. But the strikes were not a one-off collapse in health service standards. Unacceptable waiting periods and delays characterised the NHS in the pandemic years and in all of 2022, as the health service failed to play catch-up. And perhaps most importantly, poor service was a key feature of the NHS long before Covid hit. Even before the pandemic took its toll on the health service, Britain was estimated to have one of the highest rates of avoidable deaths in Western Europe: a horrifying yet not altogether surprising ranking when UK waiting lists (again, pre-pandemic) were also some of the worst compared to other European countries that publish similar data. Fear of the NHS becoming over-run in the early days of the pandemic – people in tents outside hospitals, with no one to treat or tend to them – has become our vision of what NHS collapse might look like. That’s understandable, given the threat Covid posed at the time, and the images coming out of places like Lombardy, where this healthcare nightmare was actually happening. But this is not the right metric for judging whether the NHS can still stand up straight. Or perhaps better put: whether the NHS can deliver for its patients. If the people who needed urgent attention were to start demanding to be seen in a timely manner, “over-run” would just be the start of the NHS’s troubles. But a system has been devised to avoid any appearance of failing to deliver. The public are piled onto a 7.2m waiting list instead, asked to wait, asked to postpone, asked in veiled ways to stay away when there’s any kind of disruption or crunch, as to not jeopardise or sully the reputation of “our NHS”, the “envy of the world”. Of course no one envies it. It’s a failed healthcare model. And it has been for some time; we’re just still not ready to admit it. Need help? Visit our adblocking instructions

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