Here are the challenges facing the NHS

A defining electoral concern is the National Health Service (NHS), because several issues threaten the stability of British health care.

The NHS identifies Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments as a key challenge for them.

The target for A&E waiting times in England is to help 95 per cent of all patients within four hours.

The government has failed to meet this goal in the last 17 months, with 12 per cent of patients waiting more than four hours in the emergency room in parts of 2016/17, according to The King’s Fund.

A second issue is the Referrals to Treatment (RTT) waiting times, which should be 18 weeks or less.

Recent analysis by the NHS Confederation states: “If current trends continue, then by May 2020 we can expect: The number of people waiting for longer than 18 weeks (currently over 364,000) will rise to between 584,000 to over 809,000”.

Another pressure on the NHS is mental health, which has been a rising priority. Both Labour and the Conservatives have promised to give it parity of esteem to physical health. This means that patients should have equal access to services that treat mental and physical health.

A member of the audience on BBC One’s Question Time, Leaders Special said she waited 18 months for NHS counselling and was treated cruelly during a work capability assessment meeting with a nurse.

Prime Minister Theresa May responded: “We are looking at how to improve, how that assessment is taking place. The issue of mental health is a particularly difficult one to address in terms of those work capability assessments.

“I want to ensure that there is better support in schools, so that individual members of staff are trained to better identify mental health problems and then know how to address them.”

Labour have not stated an exact sum, but they want to allocate funding to child and adolescent mental health services and to counselling services in schools.

The NHS also recognises lifestyle factors, such as alcohol, smoking, poor dieting and not enough exercise, as important health issues. The NHS will be under more strain as people seek help for lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

The NHS declares a growing ageing population as another challenge. An ageing population is in general a good thing because it means more people are living longer, but the group of people who are likely to have serious illnesses also grows, as well as their demand for care.

A report from the Nuffield Trust states the NHS requires another 17,000 hospital beds by 2022: “The NHS will need an additional 6.2 million ‘bed days’ by 2022 – which equates to 22 hospitals with 800 beds each.”

The NHS also identifies the advances in medicine and technology as a huge challenge. With the development of new medical technologies and their introduction into the health service, more lives may be saved, but the costs of treatments are also rising.

The King’s Fund recognises staff shortage as another crucial problem for the NHS after Brexit. More than 55,000 of the 1.7 million people working for the NHS are health care professionals who have come from other European countries, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

NHS medic members of the UK's Emergency Medical Team from Flickr via Wylio
© 2016 DFID – UK Department for International Development

Shortage of staff is already widespread within the NHS and affecting all disciplines.

The NHS identifies a lack of nurses, GPs, hospital doctors, midwives and mental health professionals.

Bringing in temporary staff from agencies comes at a higher cost for the trusts.

Labour have promised pay rises for NHS staff and scrap tuition fees for nurses and midwives to make the jobs more attractive.

During BBC One’s Question Time, Leaders Special, Victoria David, a nurse for 26 years, said her salary in 2009 reflected exactly what she earns today and asked May why the Tories are only offering a one per cent pay increase.

The prime minister responded: “We have had to make some hard choices across the public sector regarding pay restraint. We did that to bring public spending under control because it was out of control under the last Labour government.

“I am being honest with you when I am saying we will put more money into the NHS, but there isn’t a magic money tree that we can shake that suddenly provides for everything that people want.”

Even if both Labour and the Conservatives promise to put more money into the NHS, there are still funding constraints on the organisation.

With 1.7 million employees, the NHS is the fifth largest employer in the world. According to the Office for National Statistics, the proportion of the UK national income going to the NHS in 2015 was 9.9 per cent of the GDP. The UK spends less on health care than the other G7 countries USA, Japan, France and Germany.

Recent surveys by The King’s Fund show some of the highest reported levels of work-related stress, anxiety and depression among UK clinical staff. This contributes to poor patient care and higher levels of error.

So far the NHS provides health care to the British population but is increasingly at risk of damaging their own staff and patients in the process.



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