News of the growing crisis in Britain’s A&E units finally found its way into parliament last week.
MPs on the health select committee heard firsthand accounts of how the service is near collapse—and how cuts are already causing needless suffering.
Over 80 percent of emergency departments don’t have enough highly trained doctors on duty for the 16 hours a day thought necessary. The committee acknowledged that the situation is even worse at weekends.
Experienced doctors tend to be quicker at diagnosing problems and at handling patients with complex conditions. But it’s not just these consultant doctors who are refusing to work in emergency medicine.
Newly trained doctors increasingly avoid work in A&E because it involves long hours and poor conditions. NHS Trusts spend an average of £500,000 each on locum doctors to fill spaces on the rotas.
Stephen Dorrell, the Tory chair of the committee, feigned shock at the scale of the crisis. Yet frontline health workers have long been voicing their concerns.
Reports of emergency patients routinely kept on trolley beds for hours because hospitals have cut wards have been circulated for months.
The committee noted that hospital beds have been cut so much that hospitals have nowhere to put new patients. Many hospitals now operate permanently at near 100 percent bed occupancy. Health managers accept that 85 percent is the ideal.
Yet Dorrell and his fellow Tory health ministers have refused more resources for more beds.
Instead they claim that health workers’ greed and callousness is the problem.
The Monitor regulatory body found that NHS Trusts cut nursing staff by around 4 percent between 2012 and 2013. NHS bosses are determined to slash even more.
The Centre for Workforce intelligence warned that the NHS is likely to face a shortage of 47,500 nurses by 2016.
The need to find billions of pounds worth of “efficiency savings” every year is compounded by the growing costs of the Private Finance Initiative.
The biggest health Trust in Britain last month admitted that it is losing £2 million a week. Barts Health brought in management consultants to slash staff and services across its east London hospitals.
Staff have been told to expect whole teams to be axed and roles to be “downbanded”.
Services at Whipps Cross hospital in Waltham Forest are thought to be particularly at risk. The root of the problem is the bill for the new Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, which was built under PFI.
The Trust was committed to repaying contractors at a rate of £115 million a year for the building.
But local Labour MP John Cryer told a campaign meeting last week that Trust bosses admitted this figure has risen to over £129 million a year.