I’m actually getting more than a bit fed up – almost said pissed off, but remembered myself just in time – by the all-pervading Uriah Heepish admissions about how awful the NHS is. It all started with Stafford, of course, and there’s no doubt that the situation there was unacceptable and had to be addressed (although we’re still waiting to see evidence of those ‘hundreds’ of avoidable deaths trumpeted in the media).
Equally, I don’t doubt that there are other corners of the NHS where the target-obsessed culture and associated under-resourcing have produced similar results.
But that doesn’t mean that the whole of the health care system is a heap of ordure, staffed by uncaring and incompetent wasters. That’s the impression you get from reading the papers though, and if this goes on, we’ll be caught up in a self-fulfilling cycle of despondency. The fact is that surveys reveal high levels of public satisfaction with the health service, and the NHS is consistently demonstrated to be one of the most efficient health care systems anywhere in the developed world. And we do all this with fewer hospital beds and fewer doctors per capita than mainland Europe, not to mention fewer than half the number of MR scanners, and a third the number of CT scanners as our French and German counterparts. Not that availability of beds and imaging equipment is the only factor contributing to good outcomes, but it does suggest that we are doing a pretty good job with the resources at our disposal.
We certainly deliver better care, and more of it, than the American model that this government seems hell-bent on emulating, while spending only 40% as much.
I don’t know about you, but when I look around me, I see highly-skilled colleagues delivering good care to patients, frequently working beyond their contracted hours and in the face of significant resourcing restraints.
I’ve been on the receiving end of medical care over the past couple of years, and although ‘yes’, I was a consultant in my own hospital, I’ve been retired for a while now, and the departments dealing with me had seldom had to call on my undoubted skills as a nuclear medicine specialist. So most of the staff I met had no idea who I was, but both I, and the other patients I met on the wards and in the clinics, received nothing but polite, kind and efficient care, and I suspect that the same would have been true in most other hospitals around the country.
Now, I’m not stupid. I know that waiting times in A&E are rising again, and that we are going to have to deal with that, and with the many other problem areas, while coping with a real-terms decrease in spending. But that’s a challenge that we won’t be able to meet if the staff responsible for delivering the necessary changes in working practices are bowed down by media-induced guilt, and feel that whatever they do they will be maligned for not doing more.
Neither will we do it if the senior managers and the politicians responsible for the health service (yes Jeremy, I mean you) seem to feel that their role is to denigrate the efforts of hard-working NHS staff.
We need a bit more celebration, and a bit less humility. Perhaps we could swap Jeremy Hunt for Danny Boyle? – he must be at a loose end after the Olympics.