According to the British Red Cross the NHS is facing a ‘humanitarian crisis’ because hospitals and ambulances cannot cope with rising demand. The comments from the charity come in the wake of the deaths of two patients at Worcester Royal Hospital, both of whom were left on trolleys in corridors. The BBC has learned that one of the patients suffered from a cardiac arrest after waited 35 hours for treatment, and the other had died whilst being treated for a brain aneurysm. The BBC also reports that some patients over the Christmas/New Years period had been waiting up to 54 hours to receive treatment. It doesn’t take me to say that this decision is unacceptable.
The Red Cross is one of the most well recognised organisations when it comes to emergency care and assistance. Whenever a earthquake strikes, a hurricane hits, or a disease flares up the Red Cross are always one of the first organisations on the scene. However, the Red Cross should not have to be forced to deal with a humanitarian crisis in the sixth richest country in the world. The Chief Executive of the British Red Cross, Mike Adamson, gave a statement to the press, in which he said the following:
[We are] responding to the humanitarian crisis in our hospital and ambulance services across the country. We have been called in to support the NHS and help get people home from hospital and free up much needed beds. This means deploying our team of emergency volunteers and even calling on our partner Land Rover to lend vehicles to transport patients and get the system moving”.
So why now? Due to the drop in temperatures over Winter the NHS usually expects a rush of vulnerable people, particularly the elderly, requiring emergency care. NHS staff plan for this increase in demand over the Winter months and the staff who have been working over Christmas are by no means the ones at fault for this. The fault lies at the feet Jeremy Hunt and this Tory government.
In 2015 the Tories were returned with a majority in Parliament for the first time in nearly twenty years. One of the key election campaign issues was the NHS, and the Tories managed to convince people that they could be trusted. Before the 2015 election the Coalition had frozen NHS funding in real-terms, which meant that increasing demand from the public had to be managed on existing funding levels. At the same time the Coalition had cut local government budgets by so much that social care was being damaged.
Despite all this background information, which the Tories would have known because they had been in government since 2010, George Osborne came to the floor of the House of Commons and announced more cuts to local government and social care. Even if you said that the Tories didn’t know what the impact of austerity on the NHS would be in 2010, in 2015 they knew exactly what they were doing. The current crisis was manufactured by the Tories.
The Tories like to say that they invested money in the NHS whilst in government but this current crisis shows that the amount wasn’t enough, it was spent on the wrong priorities, or both. Furthermore the unnecessary top-down reorganisation of the NHS conducted by Andrew Lansley caused a huge amount of distress to staff and patients alike. The NHS has structural problems that need to be addressed and only with new ideas and leadership will this be accomplished. As such I propose that the government:
- Reverse all cuts to social care to help vulnerable people stay out of hospital, thus alleviating the pressure on A&E departments across the country.
- Introduce legislation to use the purchasing power of the state to bring down the cost of drugs and equipment.
- Investment in technology to reduce administrative costs (energy efficiency, new computer systems etc.)
- Increase employers contributions to National Insurance from 13.8% to 15% across the board.
- Sack Jeremy Hunt, a Secretary of State who has alienated NHS staff and whose immediate dismissal would considerably increase staff morale.
There is no quick fix for the structural problems in the NHS and we need to be honest about this fact, but that doesn’t mean that this crisis was avoidable. The NHS is this country’s most important institution and we need to defend it from all those who do it harm, whether intentional or accidental. NHS have been warning that cuts to social care will inevitably result in resources at hospitals being stretched and for the quality of service declining. The fact that the British Red Cross believes the the NHS is now facing a humanitarian crisis and requires their assistance is a mark of shame.
But let’s be clear who this a shame for. You and I didn’t cut social care budgets, demoralise doctors, and completely reorganise the health service despite not having a democratic mandate to do so. The blame for this crisis goes solely on this Tory government. The phrase ‘blood on your hands’ is often over-used or used in inappropriate situations, but the Tories have induced a situation in which people have died. Just as Lady Macbeth discovered, no amount of scrubbing can get that “wicked spot” out. The policies of the government have stretched NHS services to breaking point and the health service has finally snapped.