The 1997 Blair government inherited a National Health Service that was on its knees – with patients waiting literally years for operations in crumbling hospitals which had been built before the NHS was founded in 1948. Over the following decade, that government rebuilt and reformed the NHS, with more nurses, more doctors, more operations, shorter waiting times and over 100 new hospitals. I didn’t agree with every reform, but it was no wonder that public satisfaction with the NHS was at a record high by 2010.
Unfortunately, this government’s record on the NHS is shameful. David Cameron promised “I'll cut the deficit, not the NHS”. He assured nurses there would be no top-down reorganisations. He went round hospitals promising patients he would save Accident and Emergency Departments from closure. And what has happened? The deficit went up last year while over 4,000 nurses were cut. £3 billion was wasted on a top-down reorganisation. And the very A&E units David Cameron promised to save are closing down.
The recent Keogh review contained challenging but accurate picture of care standards and failings at 14 NHS trusts. We must, however, remember that the problems identified in these hospitals are not typical of the NHS or of the care given by NHS staff. We should seek to learn from this report and not use it to tarnish the many doctors, nurses and NHS staff who look after us in our NHS. The vast majority of doctors and nurses working in the NHS perform to a very high standard day in, day out, but everyone in the country will be worried that some hospitals are letting people down. Sir Bruce Keogh’s excellent and important report found that the most serious problems arose where there were “inadequate numbers of nursing staff”.
We should all be horrified by the massive exercise of vandalism that has destroyed NHS Direct. This is a mess entirely of the government’s own making. We had a single, trusted national service and they decided to break it up into 46 cut-price contracts, where essentially computers have replaced nurses. And the contractors have now decided that they can’t even provide a reduced service for the price they promised.
So what have we now got? “The computer says ‘No’. Go to A&E.” Is it any surprise that we’ve ended up with record numbers going to A&E and the return of patients spending hours on trolleys in corridors?