Karen Lee: Underfunding and understaffing of our NHS is a national disgrace

I was particularly concerned by the news that ULHT have now been put into financial special measures, as well as general special measures.

As Lincoln’s MP and someone who has worked for the trust for a very long time, I know how this will impact on the hardworking staff, right across the organisation, from porters and housekeepers to nurses and doctors, and of course the vital staff who perform the admin role.

The people of Lincoln, who, in my experience as MP and as a nurse, value and appreciate the care they receive from our NHS, know how hard everyone within it works to deliver a good service in difficult times.

The fact that our NHS is severely underfunded and understaffed is a national disgrace.

The current government claim to have invested in the NHS but this is smoke and mirrors, they give with one hand and take with the other.

The net result is that the NHS is underfunded, continues to be underfunded whilst they promise cuts to taxes for those on high incomes and give over £1 billion to the DUP to prop up their failing government. Their priorities are clear and the NHS does not appear to be one of them.

This is not simply a political statement from myself as a Labour MP, it is repeated by other organisations with no political axe to grind. These days it is not uncommon for a hospital trust to be placed in special measures and has happened in other areas of the country.

It is however worrying that ULHT are now in both general and financial special measures. I shall be meeting the Chief Executive of the trust, Jan Sobieraj this coming Monday to find out more and ask if there is anything that I can do as Lincoln’s MP to help.

To put what is happening into context, a recent article in the Guardian (3rd September 2017) said that NHS Providers, an organisation which represents hospital trusts in England, fears that lives could be lost because patients are being forced to spend long periods waiting in ambulances outside A&E departments or on trollies.

Chief Executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, was reported as stating that “they will struggle even more than last winter” and then went on to remind us of last winter when the Red Cross described the situation in our NHS as a Humanitarian Crisis.

The report also said that that delayed transfers of care, that is when hospitals are unable to discharge patients who are medically fit for discharge because there are problems with provision of social care, are a large factor in the shortage of hospital beds.

The report closed with a statement saying that “NHS trusts are worried that they do not have enough staff, beds and other services to manage the risk to patient safety this winter”. As a nurse at Lincoln Hospital I am aware that this is what is happening on the ground and have witnessed during my time on the wards.

Last week I spoke to the BBC’s Peter Levy about our local ambulance service, following reports stating that dangerous incidents are on the increase. I made it clear then that rather than trying to shift the blame onto hard-working staff who are under immense pressure, we laying the blame on the real cause of these issues which is the underfunding of the NHS by this government.

Having ambulances held up outside of A&E departments, with patients who are getting sicker whilst they wait to be admitted to hospital, is simply not acceptable. I recently worked a bank shift at our hospital as a nurse and I know that the wait for an ambulance for a hospital to hospital transfer has got longer, which means that by the time your patient finally gets the ambulance they have been waiting for they are sicker than they needed to be.

Hospitals, including those within ULHT, have no choice other than to employ costly agency staff.

The fact that public sector workers have had their pay capped with nurses, as one example, being 14% worse off than they were in 2010 has had a huge impact on morale and on staffing levels.

Numbers of people applying to train as nurses has fallen because of the withdrawal of nursing bursaries and this will hit the service even harder in a couple of years’ time when the shortfall now will come into effect. I attended the rally outside Westminster yesterday, where huge numbers of women and men from the public sector made it clear that it is time for the government to scrap the cap of public sector wages.

The answer to all of this is not a simple or fast solution. If we start to properly and adequately fund our NHS, end creeping privatisation and pay all public service workers what they are worth, a fair wage for a fair days work we shall start to address some of these issues. Some are historical and more deep-seated and will take time to unravel and address, but carrying on with the austerity measures which have brought our NHS to its knees cannot continue.

I care passionately about our NHS, and I care passionately about getting the very best for the city I represent. It is high time this government realised we will not tolerate the destruction of our NHS and we will put the blame firmly where it belongs.

The NHS must be properly funded and our hard-working public sector workers should be properly paid the work they do. We must halt the destruction of our NHS before it is too late.