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Tell patients ‘terribly sorry we cannot look after you’

Issue 2780

Health workers on the march in central London (Guy Smallman)

Hospitals in England are already at peak winter levels for bed occupancy, they say. And, they predict that things will only get worse as winter sets in.

The head of NHS Providers Chris Hopson said the situation was unprecedented.

“What’s very, very striking in talking to our trust chief executives is how worried some of the very long-term leaders, who’ve been around a long time, are at this point,” he told Times Radio.

“What they are saying to us is they’ve never been so worried.”

One of those NHS bosses is Roland Sinker, the chief executive of Addenbrooke hospital in Cambridge.


He said last week that he was “anxious and scared” that his hospital is “ceasing to function as a hospital”.

Sinker said he was having to consider a “plan B”, which is to say to patients, “I’m terribly sorry we can’t look after you.

“You’re going to have to think about going to another hospital. And those hospitals need to be in London and Birmingham.”

Around 100 beds were closed to admissions last week at the hospital with 40 beds closed for infection control.

Because of the shortages in places elective surgeries have been cancelled for some patients.

Dave Kennington is a junior charge nurse and Unison co-chair at an East of England NHS trust.

He told Socialist Worker that while he understands management’s frustration, there “needs to be more of a focus on the underlying causes of the problems.

“We can’t simply ‘blame Covid’, as the pandemic only caused a dramatic exacerbation of already existing issues.

“Staffing was already a serious issue, with adequately staffed shifts being the exception rather than the rule.”

He added that if trusts don’t have the money to employ more agency staff, bosses should be “screaming this from the rooftops”

NHS bosses need to put far more pressure on the government, insists Kennington.

The current crisis, he says, is the result of “a decade of chronic underfunding of NHS trusts”.


“There have been ­funding cuts to mental health and anti-addiction projects, as well as cuts to other community resources, not least GP services.

“This restricts the ability of community healthcare providers to prevent hospital admissions in the first place.”

“We also need an end to years of real-term pay cuts and a decent pay raise for health workers, which will help to improve staffing in the future,” he says.

Kennington describes trying to keep health ­workers and patients safe as a daily struggle.

“Towards the end of a recent shift, while acting as divisional supervisor, I visited one of my wards where a very pleasant, competent and hard-working nurse simply said, ‘We can’t go on like this’.

“It broke my heart, she was right, and I had nothing to say.”

Health workers are feeling burnt out

There’s a grave danger that healthcare will now be hit by a further wave of staff resignations putting even more pressure on already understaffed hospitals.

“As a union, we’ve regularly had healthcare staff phoning us in tears, feeling that they cannot do it anymore,” said Kennington.

“Most healthcare staff are either approaching, or have achieved complete burn-out.

“Many have—for the sake of their own physical and mental health—left frontline positions for less demanding roles, reduced their hours, or in many cases left healthcare altogether.

Kennington says that Tory policies are to blame.

“Whenever these issues have been at their worst, it has always been as a direct result of the government’s reckless handling of the pandemic. It would have shown true solidarity with the staff on whom they depend, if senior executives and chief nurses within trusts had publicly opposed these dangerous government policies.

“Instead of stealthy, unannounced visits by government ministers for PR photo-shoots with their sleeves rolled-up and a small handful of grinning staff members, they should be taken onto the wards on days when they have had multiple nurses and healthcare assistants taken away prior to the start of a shift.”

In many wards, says Kennington, every morning nurses have to be reallocated to other wards that are even more understaffed than their own.

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