It is not hyperbolic to say that the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is in crisis mode.
To try and pinpoint all the reasons is nigh-on impossible, but there are primary possibilities that have to be considered:
1) An ageing population. It’s a problem now with longer lifespans, and it will be an even bigger one in the future. The Office for National Statistics predicts that one in three babies born in 2013 can expect to live to see their hundredth birthday.
2) Lack of funding from central government. Austerity measures – first implemented in 2010 – have damaged NHS budgets to the point where UK hospitals have racked up a £2.45 billion deficit. The deficit is only increasing also, with 20 times more debt in 2015/16 compared to 2013/14.
3) The dismantling of social care, meaning hospital beds are taken up for longer as patients who cannot safely care for themselves have nowhere else to be.
Some of the issues are a matter of politics, based on the ideology of the ruling government. The third is more subjective, and it’s an area that’s worth focusing on.
Health and Social Care
In schools, you can study “Health and Social Care.” The two arms of care provision are brought together under a single banner right up to university level.
Yet for some reason, they are separated at governmental level. Despite the inherent acknowledgement that they are two sides of the same coin, they have different departments, different budgets and different administrations.
The result is two systems that should work in concert with one another are instead butting heads together.
An Example of the Problem
To truly get to the root of this problem, you have to see it in action. As an example – drawn from real experiences of patients – let’s create Annabelle.
Annabelle is 66-years-old, lives alone and is fit and healthy; she exercises and is in fantastic shape for her age. Yet one day, she slips and fractures her leg in three places.
She is admitted to hospital for surgery to fuse the break and give her the best chance of regaining mobility. There, she occupies a bed for a good reason – she is recovering from surgery. After a short stay, she is medically well enough to be discharged.
However, Annabelle’s mobility is now severely compromised as she is in a cast up to her hip. Her house has five steps to the front door and is split across two levels. There is no way that she can care for herself at home. As is their requirement, the medical staff at the hospital cannot release her from their care until they know she is going to be safe.
They bring in social care. Unfortunately, it’s a social care that has undergone austerity measures to the point the service is withered almost beyond use. They have no staff available to offer at-home work and no budget left to pay for non-governmental workers. There is no rehabilitation centre with a place open for Annabelle to stay in while she regains her strength. There is no other hospital with spaces available to transfer her too.
This means Annabelle becomes – through no fault of her own – a “bed blocker.” She is no longer in hospital for medical needs, but because her social well-being is compromised.
This can have a catastrophic knock-on effect, which ultimately leads to patients being treated in corridors are there are no beds available. Winter tends to bring an influx of press stories about people being treated in corridors and ambulances, generally viewed as the nadir of a health service. Doing so means a hospital is placed in “special measures,” which during the 2016/17 winter, 11 hospital trusts thus far have been restricted to.
Social Care Is The Answer To The Crisis
While funding for the NHS is always a difficult, politicized issue – the funding of social care is not. With the UK’s ageing population needing assistance, it should be seen as fundamental to solving the health crisis.
What Are The Possible Solutions?
So now the problem is recognized, what are the possible solutions?
1) Bring health and social care under the same banner. By merging the two departments, it’s possible to eliminate the bureaucracy that can sometimes slow down patient transfer.
2) Increase funding for social care at both public and private level. The result of this is simple: the number of “bed blockers” will be drastically reduced.
With this pressure eased, the NHS can return to focusing on health rather than social issues. Such measures would also have the knock-on effect of increasing care home jobs and bringing more people into work. And if more people are in work, the exchequer stands to recover more in taxes. Taxes they can then spend on the NHS.
3) Privatize the NHS. Any time such a solution is suggested, the UK public tends to rise up in defence of what is the biggest national health service in the world. There is no reason to suggest they would not do so again, making the privatization of the NHS a politically suicidal move that few politicians would dare to take. With that said, the current Minister for Health Jeremy Hunt has previously authored books advocating for a private NHS – so perhaps it’s not as unlikely as some may think.
The only thing that can be certain is that something needs to change. With funding deficits and the inevitable impact on patient care, the NHS crisis is real. Without facing up to that inconvenient truth, there is no doubt its future is looking bleak.