So different news websites and papers are confusing the heck out of the UK public as to what is actually going on with the NHS in 2016. We see on a regular basis that Junior Doctors are striking, the masses are hatin’ on Jeremy Hunt (The Minister for Health), and reports show that the NHS is continuing to be sold off to private businesses.
To put it simply, the NHS is ini a bit of a crisis.
Let’s go back to the start, shall we?
5th June 1948, the NHS is birthed into the beautiful city of Manchester; the first NHS hospital to open is Park Hospital, otherwise known as Trafford General Hospital in the modern world. It was the first time that every aspect of healthcare (doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, opticians etc) was brought together to provide the best health care and services they could provide for free. By free I mean that the NHS is available to anyone, and is financed and run from taxation.
Over the years, the NHS has had its ups and downs; the DNA structure was revealed, the smoking/cancer link was found (shock!), polio vaccinations, maternity care became more established, its had its technicalities with technology, we have doctors from all over the world providing care for the UK public. Which leads us to where we were up to not long ago.
By natural causes, you may have noted that we have pretty much overpopulated the whole planet, and the UK, we are pretty overpopulated ourselves. Key statistics show that in England, the NHS deals with over 1 million patients every 36 hours; spanning from maternity, chemotherapy, end-of-life care, emergency services, long-term conditions, the list goes on forever. So bearing in mind, that over 1million people are treated every 36 hours; the NHS employs more than 1.5million people, which places it in the top 5 of the entire world’s workforce! It’s along the same lines as Walmart, US Department of Defence, Chinese People’s Liberation Army and McDonalds. (Ironic, considering McDonalds does cause a lot of the patients problems for the NHS.)
The NHS is something England prides itself on, we are actually famous for it as a country. The service takes care of roughly 54.3million of us Brits in the UK. That’s a lot of people for 150,273 doctors, 40,584 GPs, 314,966 nurses and health visitors, 18,862 Ambulance response staff, and 111,127 hospital and community health service staff to do their best to take care of.
In terms of budget, NHS funding comes from taxation directly, however there was a slight transformation in 2013, with regards to where the money is coming from and where it goes to.
EXPLAINING HOW WE HAVE GOT TO THIS POINT OF CRISIS.
What has caused the ‘madness’?
Basically because of poor strategy decision making and a LOT of cuts, this means the pressure is on for emergency care. The transformation in 2013 has meant that NHS Direct (a nurse-led telephone info line, providing callers with health advice 24hours a day, 365 days a year) this meant that more people were less informed about what they would use the NHS for, hence why you might see these posters a lot on your travels. It has meant that the true expertise of the NHS has now been lost because of the constant sending away of people who turn up to A&E with a cold. Also, letting go of a big portion of district nurses has had a huge effect too, numbers decreasing from 12,000 in 2005, to just 5,500 today.
In many hospitals, pretty much all, ALL beds are fully occupied, making the process of A&E longer, meaning waiting times have had to lengthen. The emergency care system is at the moment, quite confusing, and in ways like a jigsaw puzzle, people struggle to get an appointment with their GP, meaning they will head to the hospital, to be then turned away. Another problem, is the ‘exit block’; meaning when patients cannot be discharged from hospital because of the lack of free and available beds, certain periods of time this is worse for, e.g. Christmas.
As much as you may see/read/hear things about the critical A&E department, the demand for GPs is often ignored. As much as I struggled to get an appointment for my bad case of tonsilitis last week, even though my GP is directly opposite my house, I couldn’t be that mad at them because after researching what struggle the doctors and nurses in there are going through. There are currently 1.3million GP consultations every day; GPs are seeing 120,000 more patients each day than they did 5 years ago. Funding for GPs has fallen to an appalling all time low; 8% of the NHS budget, they cannot cope with the ever-lasting growing demand. It is just too much.
Providing that the winter we have just had, meant that the NHS received £700million additional funding from the Government to help with the pressure. However, questions have been raised as to where exactly this money has gone, reports were filed by GPs and emergency medicine doctors that it had not reached them effectively… (strange huh?)
There is also the matter of the ageing population; the sheer volume of ill, elderly people that often have more complex existing medical conditions that use the NHS, has meant that this year alone, norovirus levels have risen, and the number of beds available have significantly lowered.
From this information, it is clear that the NHS is not receiving the resources it is so desperate for. However, medic professionals have said that more money will not help, as the current system needs to now be redesigned from scratch. Recruitment for more workers also need to be in place; with a huge number of people in the first place needing healthcare, and the ageing population has taken its toll on the service. What is needed is a long-term investment and investigation into how to fix these problems, not just short-term money solutions, the current solution wastes money, and no new ideas are coming from the debacle.
WHY ARE DOCTORS NOT AT WORK AND ANGRY?
So currently, junior doctors and ministers of the government are at a headlock stance, the dispute is STILL unsettled. Here’s a simple explanation for you.
Junior doctors are objecting to a new contract that is meant to come into place. The giv ministers drew up plans for the changes to the contract in 2012, but talks eventually broke down in 2014.
Basic pay has said to be increased by roughly 13.5%; but, it comes at a price. Day hours on Saturdays will be paid the ‘normal rate’, however, extra pay has been offered for night shifts, and the rest of the weekend are lower than what is currently paid… (unsociable hours, and no extra pay? No, thank you). Does this mean they lose pay?
To begin wit no, however, these changes mean that it has been designed to make it cheaper to assign EXTRA doctors on at the weekend; meaning more medics will be more likely to work weekends, which under the EXISTING contract, would have meant more pay. New doctors (angels) who are starting their career to become NHS medics under this NEW contract may be worse off too.
The starting salary for a junior doctor is £23,000 a year, with the option for extra pay for doing unsociable hours, means that they can top this number up to around £30,000. For this amount of money, they have to take charge of teams of other doctors and medics, make life-and-death decisions, carry out surgery, deliver children, go hours, even days without sleep. (Mentally and physically draining, right?)
The health care secretary, one Mr Jeremy Hunt, (you may have seen his name a lot recently; ‘losing confidence in Mr Hunt’) wants to improve the care on the weekends, because a study had shown that patients are more likely to die if they are to go into hospital on the weekend. However, as much as the professional medics (who, y’know have STUDIED medicine and human biology) have repeated themselves over and over again, about how these deaths are not entirely unavoidable, and increased staffing will not prevent the problem as much as the Gov and the media are saying.
This new contract is meant to imposed this summer, despite having several strikes all throughout April. Currently, there are 55,000 junior doctors in England alone, roughly equating to a third of the entire workforce of the NHS.
The first strike actually happened in October last year, where 20,000 people took part in a protest in London, objecting the plans for the Gov to impose the new contract. Come January this year the BMA (British Medical Association – they know their stuff) announces 3 strikes to commence in January and February. And so, on 12th January 2016, THOUSANDS of doctors walk out for the first strike, the first strike in a whopping 40 years! Around 4,000 operations and procedures had to be cancelled because of the 24-hour walkout. On January 16th, a new offer was made by the Gov, however, junior doctors and the Gov did not become best pals so easily.
Fast forwarding to February, another strike happens on the 10th, thousands of doctors are back on the street protesting the changes; leading to the doctors announcing another THREE 48-hour strikes are to happen in March and April.
March: 9th and 10th, thousands of operations are cancelled as one strike begins.
April: 5th and 6th, more strikes occur, resulting in around 5,100 procedures to be postponed. At this strike, the cast of Green Wing (highly recommended telly) turned up to show their support!
April 26th and 27th, another 48-hour occurs, more procedures and services are to be postponed AGAIN.
Junior Doctors have been branded as ‘militants,’ ‘radicals’, these people are attending these strikes, but then will turn up for their assigned shifts on the dot. The whole debacle has meant a lot of junior doctors are looking elsewhere for work, most means emmigrating to an entire diffrent country, and in some cases, different continents, like going to the USA or Canada. The striking doctors are protesting not only for themselves, their own health and for their patients health, but for the NHS itself, to highlight the bigger picture of it all; the NHS is in a major crisis.
They are angry because of the language used by Mr Hunt in the media, he even said on one of the mornings of one strike, that the ‘junior doctors are trying to “blackmail” the gov for more money.’ These strikes often start at 8am in the morning, and finish at 5pm, when most junior doctors would be starting their next shift. The NHS has tried to pull out all the stops to minimise the risks of the strikes, but there is only so much it can do to its staff and for its patients.
The doctors are tired of feeling ignored, and having thousands upon thousands of voices not being heard, it is unclear if the issue will be resolved. It needs to be resolved soon; this is the National Health Service we are talking about, and the fact that there is online petitions for Mr Hunt to lose his job, is just highlighting just how dire the situation actually is.
MR HUNT HAS 2 OPTIONS
Option 1: He could request for additonal funds in order to train, retain and recruit MORE junior doctors, though this might take a number of years.
Option 2: He could reduce the service during the week in order to provide better care at the weekend.
What his own option is panning to be: His bosses won’t provide the funding for option 1, and option 2 goes against his plan of creating a 7-day NHS, therefore he needs to make the decision whether he’ll make existing junior doctors work EVEN LONGER and UNSAFE HOURS for no additional pay.
Mr Hunt knows this will not be popular, so has continued to refuse to talk about the matter, and has used certain words when he talks about the issue with the media.
What Mr Hunt probably doesn’t know that, let’s say he had 10 junior doctors, already 2 of them have left the NHS, because they couldn’t cope with the current working conditions, and their jobs would be covered by locums. A cap has already been introduced for locum pay, so you can no longer find any locums to cover the already existing rota gaps. By August 2016, for his 10 doctors, when he implements his new contract:
2 FEMALE junior doctors will have quit because of the impact of the new contract it has on them
1 more junior doctor will have LEFT THE COUNTRY because of the bright hopes and dreams of better working conditions that are available abroad.
So now, Jeremy Hunt is left with just 7 doctors trying to complete the work of 14 junior doctors.
The point being, that this new contract is threatening the health and safety of the doctors themselves, their patients that they wait hand on foot for, which will eventually result in the collapse of the NHS.
It is clear that something needs to happen. Doctors do not just strike for any given reason, there are key issues that have been raised. It is time for you to engage yourself in what is happening with the NHS. This is your health we are talking about, and the health of millions of others.
There is a correlating podcast also with this article! With me, Siobhan Bowater, and I am joined by Alex Thompson, where we have a bit of a ramble, but discuss the matter on a simple level for all to understand.