The Galleon - Portsmouth's Student Newspaper

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Food & Health

Four hours in A&E

“We can be proud of what we have achieved so far together…  we have taken hard decisions on public spending, we have protected the National Health Service, with 9,500 more doctors and 6,900 more nurses…”

Taken directly from the Conservative Party’s Manifesto, the quote paints quite a different picture of the current state of the NHS. Even after putting aside the issues of Jeremy Hunt and the junior doctors, or the potential deportation of non-EU NHS staff, or even GP surgery closures, there is still a major problem with the way the NHS is currently administrated.

After spending almost an entire day in Queen Alexandra’s A&E department, it was quite clear that this view of a ‘protected NHS’ is far from reality. It was shocking to overhear from the hospital staff that for every patient who enters A&E, the hospital has a 4 hour time limit to get that patient admitted or discharged, otherwise the hospital will incur a fine of £120.

This fine may not seem drastic individually, but when you consider that on average 61,400 patients are treated in A&E around the country on a daily basis, the fine a hospital can incur could be enormous. Not only does this fine put heavy pressure on the staff to turn the patient’s around as quickly as possible, potentially affecting the care that the patient receives, but it also puts a massive strain on the hospital’s budget and reputation if they exceed this 4 hour window.

In what way is combating A&E waiting times with financial implications a productive way of improving the efficiency of the NHS?

A greater question would also be to ask what the money generated from these fines goes towards? Because if it’s reinvested back into the trust, what is the point of all of the administrative effort to calculate the fine in the first place? It also seems to be an excuse for the government to avoid further – and much needed – investment.

The policy was initially introduced by the Labour Party in 2004 as a target for hospitals to adhere to, stating that 98% of patients should be treated within this timeframe. This percentage was then lowered to 95%, by the coalition government in 2010. It is fair to say that the systematic dismantling of the NHS started at the hands of Blair’s government and not the Tories. However, the Conservative government have not taken any meaningful steps to returning the NHS to the public domain, with an increasing amount of departments being controlled by independent firms. In fact, the NHS deficits have only grown since 2009; with around 8% of trusts having overspent, compared with two thirds declaring over expenditure in 2016.

This national service has become a victim of the Public Finance Initiative, where parts of it are auctioned off to the highest bidder. Over time, this has created a disjointed mess with less funding, less staff, and poor patient care. There has been serious oversight on the issue that gradually privatising the NHS would ensure the service becomes profit-orientated rather than patient-orientated.

It is sad to witness what was once an equal benefit to all citizens in the UK be transformed into a crooked money making scheme, which is to the detriment of those who need the service the most.

Even though the future of the NHS does look bleak, it has also been at the forefront of politics and media headlines for some time. And, yes, the underfunding of the NHS was shamelessly used as a Brexit ploy. However, it has meant that this rather neglected issue has been returned to public discourse. It is clear that this is a concerning issue for many people in the UK, including the majority of NHS staff, with many protests, petitions and strikes being organised regularly. One can only hope that the voice of the people will one day be heard and respected.

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