A year ago, Theresa May’s government took control of our NHS. Figures released by NHS England today show the literal mayhem that has engulfed our health service under May’s premiership, and the harm this is causing patients. As a junior doctor, I experience it every day.
In the first hospital I worked in, I thought the lack of resources, understaffing, and inability to meet patient demand was particular to that hospital trust. But as I moved from one hospital to another, I realised it has become endemic. Overflowing A&E departments, routine cancellation of operations, ambulance delays, and permanent bed shortages are the new norm in Tory Britain.
Today’s figures evidence how much the situation has deteriorated in the last year. Over four million people are currently waiting for surgery, the highest number in a decade and, in the last year, 2.5 million people waited more than four hours for emergency and urgent treatment.
The Conservatives’ lethal cuts to funding, combined with the selling off services for private profit and a social care crisis caused in Downing Street, has pushed our NHS to breaking point. This has drastically reduced the quality of patient care, and shut many out from treatment altogether, often with fatal consequences. It’s clear that cutting services to the bone has become more than just a metaphor.
Patients have also been impacted by the government’s mistreatment of NHS staff. This was the year I and other junior doctors were forced to take the unprecedented step of striking in opposition to an unsafe contract. Jeremy Hunt imposed the contracts anyway, ignoring our warnings about threats to patient care.
And despite widespread pressure to end the public sector pay cap, our wages continue to fall in real-terms. This has hit the lowest paid staff the hardest, with some of my colleagues forced to rely on foodbanks as a result. Low pay, combined with the removal of the nurses’ bursary and rising fees for medical students, has caused a recruitment crisis and severe staffing shortages.
An overstretched and underpaid workforce, without access to sufficient resources and facilities, cannot provide patients with the care they need. Our inability to provide this care causes us severe stress, strain and sleep deprivation, which has driven many of my colleagues from the profession.
Today’s figures should be a wake-up call for us to fight for universal healthcare, properly funded and publicly-owned, with safe staffing levels and fair pay. Not only are NHS services and staff being pushed to breaking point – now patients are too. If we don’t act now, the consequences will be fatal.