The winter is barely underway but the NHS is already stretched—and the Tories fear they could soon have a disaster on their hands.
Carol, a nurse, has worked in A&E, walk-in and urgent care centres in London.
“Services are under a huge amount of pressure,” she said. “Departments are frequently short-staffed. Staff feel overwhelmed, unsupported and suffer rapid burn-out.
“This can have a severe impact on the quality of care for patients.”
So-called excess winter deaths often top 20,000 in a single year.
But the combination of a crisis in the NHS alongside rocketing fuel poverty could make this year far worse.
The Tories are halfway through their plan to cut £20 billion from the NHS by 2015.
But they are terrified that their cuts have created the conditions for a disaster worse than the Mid-Staffs scandal as the winter weather sets in.
Drastic cuts to save money in Stafford Hospital contributed to hundreds of excess deaths and patients left in squalor and pain between 2005 and 2009.
And the NHS is short of the equivalent of 20,000 full time nurses, according to recent figures from the Royal College of Nursing.
In hospitals such as Whipps Cross in east London’s crisis-stricken Barts Health trust, some 10 percent of nursing posts are empty.
Tory health minister Jeremy Hunt was forced to promise the recruitment of an extra 3,700 nurses this week.
It’s not clear what this will mean in practice.
And it is is far less than the number already lost under the Tories.
The government is also trying to shift the focus away from its cuts and onto NHS workers. A new patient safety website is set to publish staff numbers.
Ministers grabbed headlines last week with plans for a new law to jail nurses who wilfully neglect their patients.
In reality existing laws cover cases of abuse—but it helps the Tories to claim that NHS staff are the problem.
Hunt hasn’t stopped pressing on with cuts.
He confirmed earlier this month that he is determined to close four out of nine A&Es in west London.
Hammersmith Hospital and Charing Cross A&Es are set to be downgraded to a minor injuries unit.
Ealing and Central Middlesex hospitals will close soon after.
The remaining hospitals will only get more stretched—and Charing Cross hospital in is set to lose 500 acute beds.
“Part of the stress in A&E is scrabbling around to find beds, Carol explained.
“This passes the pressure down the line to the wards that are also struggling. So how is losing beds going to help A&E?”
There have also been huge cuts in community care. Community nurses have been slashed and over
20 percent of walk-in centres have been closed.
Now the government is caught between its lies about change for the better and the grim reality of cuts.
Health workers and everyone who relies on the NHS will be the ones to suffer.