The ‘patient’ has been diagnosed with a debilitating illness, it is serious although not fatal yet. They have got through the summer with some difficulty but the prospect of a long winter is frankly daunting. Will they make it through? We certainly hope so because our own lives quite literally depend on it.
This ‘patient’ could of course be any one of us, but in this case their name is the National Health Service. A unique service full of fantastic people working their socks off in the face of huge challenges. But a combination of underfunding, too much tinkering by successive governments, Brexit and Covid has pushed it to the limit.
We are used to winter crises in the NHS. These have become the norm during the dark and cold days but this year is different – we are already at crisis point and the sun is still shining. A broken health system reflects a broken country where it feels like nothing now works properly. As much as long queues at airports are annoying we can typically walk away from them healthy and alive. I’m afraid we have no such choice when it comes to our well-being.
The sad reality is that two sets of figures released recently show a grim picture for the state of our health services.
The first is dentistry.
A constituent in Bourton on the Water told me about his frustrating search for an NHS dentist locally. In the end he had to pay for the treatment his family needed in a private dental practice. He is not alone. This is happening to a lot of us.
This all fits with a shocking recent investigation of dentistry services across the UK by the BBC. It found that no dental practices in the whole of Gloucestershire are accepting any new NHS patients. Not a single one!
Cash strapped families and pensioners are struggling to find the affordable care that they need.
At a time of huge pressures with the cost of living, the Government must act. New plans need to be brought forward urgently to recruit more local NHS dentists on contracts which, so no matter where you live you know you can get the NHS dental care you need.
People in our area should know if they are in pain or face a health emergency that the NHS is there for them. Our dental surgery staff are fantastic but these awful figures from the BBC prove that NHS dentistry in our area is at breaking point.
The second is our Ambulance Service
Now, the alarm bells are also deafening when it comes to the ambulance service. For some time the service in the South West has been missing its targets for rural districts. However, now we are at a point where people in both the cities and the smaller settlements are genuinely concerned about what would happen if the ambulance failed to turn up in time in the event that they are seriously ill.
I was told a truly awful story about a young man who had fallen ill earlier this year in a remote rural part of the Cotswolds. His colleagues phoned 999 and waited for an ambulance – and waited and waited. 12 hours in fact, whilst the man lay in a cold wet field covered by a makeshift tent to protect him from the elements. Luckily the man survived but it is a sobering tale. Those who stayed with him were shocked at what they all had to go through.
Since then the horror stories of ambulances taking many hours to arrive are now everyday occurrences. As reported by Dorset Echo in May, the South West Ambulance Service (SWAS) has the worst waiting times in the country. Why? At a Gloucestershire Health Scrutiny Committee recently the CEO of the SWAS said that he was:
“… extremely concerned [that] some patients are not getting the service expected … the health and social care system is struggling to cope with demand.”
I applaud his honesty. Ambulances are often not able to get to patients quickly as they wait outside hospitals to hand over patients. It is a vicious circle which needs urgent attention. Similarly, hospitals cannot hand over recovering patients to the care system as there is a chronic shortage of care staff. Many EU care workers left after the Brexit vote and have not returned.
Government Action is needed urgently!
None of this is remotely acceptable. Our area (and the whole country) deserves dental treatment and a reliable ambulance service. The Government shows no sign of grasping the nettle. I fear for our collective health this winter. In the absence of new energy and focus at the top we will rely on the dedication and professionalism of health staff to get us through each crisis.
If only we could rely on the Government to be so professional.
Ed: This article is part of our series on ‘Broken Britain’. If you have a story to tell on what needs to be fixed then write to me at [email protected].
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