NHS reform cannot wait any longer

NHS logo
NHS logo

We are becoming so inured to stories of failure in the NHS that we risk shrugging off yet another set of dreadful statistics as par for the course. But the impact of waiting times in A&E is shocking and should serve as a wake-up call to both major parties that carrying on as we are is no longer an option.

Thousands of patients seeking emergency care are facing 12-hour waits at some of England’s busiest hospitals. In some trusts the proportion waiting half a day for treatment is 25 per cent.

Many may have minor injuries that are painful but not life threatening. But new data show that 250 people may be dying needlessly each week because of overcrowded casualty wards and a shortage of beds.

Figures compiled by the Royal College of ­Emergency Medicine estimated that there were 14,000 excess deaths last year and 1.5 million emergency patients waited 12 hours or longer. The risk of death started to increase after five hours and grew worse with longer waiting times.

This is further evidence, if it were needed, that the NHS needs fundamental reform, not the financial tinkering routinely offered by politicians faced with proof of its shortcomings.

A&E departments are under huge pressure because of the growing population, high levels of immigration and the abject failure of primary care. People unable to see a GP for whatever reason go to hospital where the most serious cases are supposed to be triaged speedily.

Yet many are left on trolleys in corridors or languishing in ambulances unable to unload their patients because there is no space. Bed blocking by older in-patients who no longer require treatment but have nowhere else to go remains a serious problem despite ministerial promises to sort it out.

A series of strikes called by medical unions professing their loyalty to the NHS has made a bad situation far worse. It is a vicious cycle from which there is no escape without a radical change of approach. Inevitably, the A&E figures were greeted in the usual quarters by demands for more money, as if the experience of the past 30 years pumping cash into an unreformed system were not proof enough that this has failed to improve matters.

In 2010, the government set hospital trusts a target to see 95 per cent of emergency cases within four hours. Last year, not one achieved it. It is hardly surprising that public satisfaction with the NHS is at a record low.

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