Winter is always a tough time for NHS services. Despite planning for this winter earlier than ever before, in medicine there are always circumstances that cannot be predicted. This year has seen a severe outbreak of flu which has put an additional strain on NHS services. However, as a health professional and doctor who has worked in the health service for over 15 years, it has been irritating to see the Opposition politicise these challenging times, and use the challenges the NHS is facing to try to score political points.
I worked in Peterborough Hospital over the Christmas and New Year period. It is true that at times I did see people waiting longer in A&E for treatment than we would like. But I also saw the heroic efforts of NHS staff giving their all day in, day out.
On one of my shifts a seriously injured child came in. All the necessary hospital staff and equipment were swiftly made available, and at times there were a dozen people around the bed. Despite the very grave situation the child was in on arrival, thanks to the brilliant treatment they received they are now set to make a full recovery.
It is important to recognise that the vast majorities of patients get excellent care from the NHS, and get away from only focusing on the the negative headlines. We must remember that more people than ever are being successfully treated and going on to live long, healthy lives, and are really pleased with the NHS treatment they received.
The heated, partisan debate focusing only on negatives does nothing to help solve some of the most difficult problems facing the NHS. For example one issue that causes a lot of upset is the postponement of operations. When someone has waited a long time for an operation, and anxiously readied themselves for the pain, distress and logistical challenges they know they will experience, to be told at the last moment they will have to continue to wait can be crushing.
There are several choices available to address this problem. We could run hospitals at a very low capacity all summer so that there is more free capacity ready for the winter, but this is an intrinsically inefficient use of resources; we could say that we will not do any elective work over the winter, but then we will have cancelled operations that did not need to be cancelled; or we could tell people that we will plan their operation but there is a possibility that if the hospital is particularly busy, it will need to be postponed.
None of those choices is ideal; all have pros and cons, but the third (and currently used) option seems to me to be the better one. Ultimately we need an adult, cross-party agreement about the best way; otherwise, as with elective operations in winter, whichever option is chosen by the Government, even if it’s the best option overall, the opposition will criticise it for its cons (postponements), and not acknowledge that this is the best of an imperfect set of options.
I firmly believe in the National Health Service. Taking the politics out of the health service will allow us to make effective progress on some of the biggest challenges facing it, from demographic changes to more expensive treatments and complex conditions, and continue to provide a world-leading health service for generations to come.