NHS crisis: Dr Hilary Jones reads out messages from doctors
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A Sunday Express investigation consulted some of the country’s leading voices, including NHS advisers, clinicians and politicians, who believe the health service will not be fully fixed until at least 2033.
They also said that vital changes cannot take place without “relentless focus, cross-party consensus and at least a 10-year commitment”, regardless of who is in power.
But for the NHS to be truly fit for purpose, it will need all political parties, medics and unions to work together, the experts said.
Previous attempts to reform the service have been hampered by measures that were abandoned too quickly, often because political leaders leave posts before gains can be seen, it was said.
Our analysis comes as the service battles the “biggest crisis in its history”, despite increased investment.
Spending on health and social care has gone up from £132billion per year in 2012/2013 to £180billion 10 years later, according to healthcare charity The King’s Fund.
But public services think tank Reform said: “The NHS has record-high levels of investment yet on almost every indicator, performance is deteriorating.”
In 2021, nearly 12 per cent of GDP was being spent on health. But Reform believes there is a “toxic combination of ever-more investment and declining performance” and that “a fundamental rethink is needed”. A possible indicator of this is the alarming rise in excess deaths – those above-expected levels – that has been witnessed in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Since June, there have been more than 50,000 “extra” deaths in the UK, compared with the five-year average.
There are currently an estimated 7.2 million people on waiting lists for planned treatment, in part compounded by procedures delayed or missed during the pandemic.
Cancer is a particular problem. Last month it was estimated that around 8,000 excess cancer deaths since March 2020 were due to delays in diagnostics and treatment.
A paper in the journal Lancet Oncology saw experts urge the Government to treat cancer care with the same urgency as the Covid vaccine rollout, calling it a “watershed” moment for the country.
Additionally, a growing number of health worker strikes, including walkouts by nurses, paramedics and emergency call handlers, have exacerbated the issue.
Stan Silverman, former deputy medical director of the NHS’s regulator, NHS Improvement, said: “Every few years politicians get a new idea and the NHS
“This is just a massive distraction, as staff and managers focus on their own survival and stop leading. The NHS needs relentless focus, cross-party consensus and at least a 10-year commitment.
“Any successful organisation has a strategy and a stable leadership without chopping and changing.
“It takes a long time to embed a new way of working – and reforms have led to lots of turmoil and chaos in the past, which affects relationships as well as taking up bandwidth which should be used to deliver healthcare.”
An NHS England adviser said: “We cannot go back to how we were. The system has passed its tipping point. When a complex system breaks down it is not fixable without slow, radical change.
“Successive ministers of health come into the role blind, with no experience in healthcare. It takes two years for them to know what to do, then they move on.”
Doctors’ leaders say strikes will help socialism push
Leading members of the doctors’ union have previously called for an “ideological battle” and predicted strikes could promote “socialist” politics.
Around 45,000 British Medical Association members are voting on action, including a 72-hour walkout after its annual conference backed calls for a 30 per cent pay rise.
Those speaking in support included Dr Joanna Sutton-Klein, who was elected to the BMA Council as part of a “Broad Left” slate of candidates.
Investigations by think tank Policy Exchange suggest she sees the pay fight as part of a broader political struggle. Writing on Reddit, Dr Sutton-Klein said: “This isn’t just about our pay… this is a hugely important ideological political moment.”
And in 2016, Emma Runswick, the council’s deputy chair, predicted that “organising” by the BMA could promote Left-wing politics.
She said: “I think that’s where the opening for socialist politics is – the realisation that we are workers and that we can be open and proud about organising in a trade union, not just an apolitical professional association.”
Other Broad Left activists on the BMA Council include Rebecca Acres, who has described the Conservative Party as “near-genocidal”.
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