The Destruction of the NHS: A Dialogue at Breaking Point

The Destruction of the NHS: A Dialogue at Breaking Point

by Nima Ghadiri

Is the NHS at breaking point?

Yes, it really is. As things stand, it will not exist in five to ten years time, and different elements of our Health Service will be apportioned as Dialysis-Plus East Coast, CrossCancer, Virgin Maternity, or whatever other word-pasticcio the “brand positioner” regorges.

With consecutive governments in seemingly total denial about the state of the NHS, the phrase “crisis point” is an understatement. We need to do something now, every month which passes brings the death sentence closer.

Ok, just…. just chill out there for a second. Are things really THAT BAD?

Chucking about numbers is often a precursor to a well-known Disraeli quote, paraphrased by Mark Twain. Nevertheless, sometimes they are needed so people can grasp what is happening.

Since 2011, there has been a 504% increase in the number of patients waiting over four hours in A&E Departments across the country, forcing Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt to ditch the target.   23 hospitals were simultaneously on black alert earlier this year, which means that they “are unable to guarantee life-saving emergency care”. This included Jeremy Hunt’s own local hospital The Royal Surrey, which had 27 patients urgently needing a bed but no space.

Waiting times for surgery have been getting much longer, and 4093 urgent operations were cancelled in 2016, an increase of 27% in just two years.  Knee and hip operations are now being rationed only for those who aren’t able to sleep because of agony, using bogus “pain tests” as a differentiator.

Cancer treatment targets have been missed for four consecutive years, and services are now failing.  Mental health services are being rationed, so people who suffer are dying in their homes, unable to care for themselves.

These are frightening figures, it’s no wonder the Red Cross (who stepped in early in the year to help with a shortage of ambulances) has declared the NHS a humanitarian crisis, as people are dying needlessly in the world’s fifth-richest country…

Stop, I get the idea, things are looking gloomy all round. Surely, we have the MONEY to stop this?

Source: BMA

Astonishingly, as demand has risen hugely, funding has been cut.  Our spending on the NHS as a percentage of our GDP has plummeted below 10%.  This is a lot less than France and Germany, and amongst the lowest in the developed world.

If our national health funding matched the average amount that Europe’s 10 leading economies spend on their healthcare, perhaps we could lose this uncoveted accolade:

Source: BMA

Yes, we need more NURSES and DOCTORS!

And we are getting far less.  Medical school applications have plummeted, the proportion of med school graduates who become first year doctors has gone down from 70% to 50%, with phrases such as “in droves” and “en masse” describing the number of junior doctors leaving the United Kingdom.  Enormous rota gaps are now ubiquitous, GP vacancies have skyrocketed from 2% in 2011 to 12.2% now, and 84% of general practitioners now say that their workload is affecting patient care.

Nursing applications have fallen by 23% over the last year, and the removal of bursary funding for student nurses and midwives has sent one clear message “We don’t value you”, underlined by years of below-inflation 0% and 1% pay rises.  By 2019, NHS workers will have seen their pay capped for nine consecutive years, and nurses will have seen their pay reduced by 12%.

To add salt into these raw and gaping wounds, the Secretary of State for Health massively over-estimated nurses’ average pay this month when he was asked why so many nurses are having to use food banks.

Source: British Medical Journal

So they want things to fail, is this all about PRIVATISATION?

We don’t need to speculate about this, it’s all there in numbers, contracts, even a book with Jeremy Hunt’s name on it, calling for the de-nationalisation of the NHS.  There has been an increase in spending on “independent sector providers” of a third between 2014 and 2016, and an estimated 500% more contracts have gone private since 2012.

Source: BMA

The plan for privatising the National Health Service isn’t exclusive to one party.  The groundwork was done by the previous government, with poorly conceived “public service reforms” leading to unfettered introduction of private corporations into commissioning. It has accelerated over recent years, however.

So what are the POLITICIANS saying?

Absolutely the wrong things. For a National Health Service which is quite visibly starving, Jeremy Hunt said: “The NHS needs to go on a 10-year diet”.

Theresa May also didn’t like the Red Cross assessment of the NHS, calling them “irresponsible” and “overblown”.

The BMA has identified five key issues for the future of the NHS, and it would indeed be “irresponsible” if politicians did not address these:

Source: BMA

Are you subtly telling me which way to VOTE?

No, it’s not for me to instruct you, and people don’t like being told what to do.  Nevertheless, it’s currently very easy for the mainstream media and tabloid press to distract the general population and report on fake scandals rather than one which is very real, and affects all of us.

As long as you are aware of what is happening and can make up your own mind, then that’s already very important. If you can spread the word to others, even better.  Over the next few months we will see an increase in grass-roots movements in social media and the streets, in support of the National Health Service.  There will be a nurses’ summer of protest activity, a show of anger against pay-rise caps and maltreatment which has left 40,000 posts unfilled.

Battling a Murdoch and Dacre Press which has vested interests against the NHS will be challenging, and no doubt lies will be spun which confuse and subvert.  Tabloid journalism had a pivotal role in the Junior Doctor contracts dispute, and may do so against the nurses too. It is crucial to appreciate that supporting our nurses means supporting our National Health Service.

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Doctors With Mental Illness – Time For A Change

Mental Illness, particularly in the workplace, remains a stigma. It is time for attitudes toward mental illness to change, and we cannot ignore the doctors who suffer.

A push for mental health

 

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-pledges-a-revolution-in-mental-health-treatment

Earlier this year, former prime minister David Cameron pledged a mental health revolution of almost a billion pounds. Whilst this proposed outlay is welcome, it must be matched by a proactive change to the stigma attached to mental health in media, the workplace, and at home.

Mental health and doctors

 

Professor Debbie Cohen of Cardiff surveyed almost 2000 doctors this year and found that 60% had experienced mental illness in the UK (82% in England alone). In the general population, the rate is 28%. Doctors experience the same range of problems as everyone else, but the cocktail of work, exams, academia, family and relationships lowers the threshold for illness. Many have perfectionist traits which lead to doubt and self-criticism when things go wrong, leading to a self-perpetuating cycle.

Worryingly, more young doctors are being diagnosed with mental health problems. There may not be a pre-existing illness: After 25-year old junior doctor Rose Polge tragically committed suicide in February 2016, her family described a young lady with an infectious enthusiasm for life and no previous mental health problems, but long hours and work-related anxiety contributed to her decision to end her life.

Extreme stress early on

 

Doctors are as susceptible to mental problems as the general population. However, particularly early on in their careers, they face a unique combination of challenges. These include the need to develop countless skills within a short period (for which university education can never fully prepare) and service burdens in a chronically under-resourced environment, only more challenging for those with family or caring roles. Early junior doctors shifts are usually incompatible with outside interests, and losing day-to-day balance can unearth mental health struggles.

Doctors face a societal and professional weight compelling them to ignore difficulties. A cultural idiosyncracy of willing martyrdom exists, in which doctors feel it their role to attend work regardless of fitness. This is less prevalent in other countries, for example Australia and New Zealand, where attitudes towards sickness are more rational.

The stigma

 

Fewer professions stigmatise mental health disorders more prominently than medicine. In the Cardiff study, 41% of doctors with mental illness said that they would not disclose it. Doctors are not supposed to get ill, and seeking help is weakness which imperils trust in the practitioner’s ability to do his/her job. This featured in the heartbreaking suicide of GP Wendy Potts in November 2015 after a patient read her blog on living with Bipolar Disorder and complained to the surgery.

Some doctors find changing roles from helper to patient unnatural, others find treatment from a colleague embarrassing. Often the prevailing fear is of a career-threatening “black mark” on a permanent record: Doctors must labour through appraisals and assessments, and competition for jobs and training posts can be ferocious.

A culture of fear

 

A 2008 Department of Health report said:

“Doctors may fear that acknowledging the need for help will damage their career prospects or lead to scrutiny of their fitness to practise”

This happened in the case of Dr Dakhsha Emson, who killed herself and her baby during a relapse of bipolar disorder in 2000. A stirring tribute from her husband reflected a talented doctor and a successful medical career. However, worry of colleagues and patients finding out when she was applying for consultant posts led to a lack of treatment. The report highlighted a:

“Widespread stigma against mental illness in the NHS”

This stigma can arise as early as medical school, fostered by a triad of competitiveness, fear and uncertainty. Students sometimes receive conflicting information about mental health, and may fear disclosing illness. Pastoral care can be arbitrary, often with little demarcation between disciplinary roles and support roles. Some universities have introduced “fitness to practice” hearings to monitor student behaviour, fostering a culture of castigation.

For some doctors, this culture is epitomised by the General Medical Council (GMC), whose role is to protect the health and safety of the public. All doctors with mental health issues are required to notify regarding their problems, which are investigated under the same procedures as misconduct and poor performance. Subsequent fitness to practise processes are required to be declared on application forms for jobs. These can sometimes be beneficial, for example recommending support. However, often they are described as harrowing experiences, and the duress of investigation affects doctors personally and professionally.

The toll can sometimes be too much, between 2005 and 2013 there were 28 reported cases of suicides following investigation. One of those was GP Belinda Brewe, describing the process:

“threatening and isolating”, eroding “self-confidence and self-belief”.

What’s needed

 
  • The NHS needs continued active campaigns to encourage openness, tackle stigma and promote healthy working practice.
  • Medical schools should be proactive in support and awareness: counselling services, pastoral care positions and peer support.
  • The insight that doctors with mental health problems have when treating their patients should be valued.

A doctor who has a mental health disorder might put his patient at risk, but a doctor hiding or in denial because of a culture of fear will put his patient at risk.

Support

  • http://www.php.nhs.uk NHS Practitioner Health Programme, free and confidential health service allowing doctors to self-refer.

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/nima-ghadiri/doctors-with-mental-healt_b_12760924.html

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Are Patients ‘At Risk From Thousands Of EU Medics?’

On 24th September 2016, the Daily Mail headlined with the following:

This follows on from a number of previous articles published earlier in the year by the paper concerning doctors in the NHS who come from other EU countries.

Whilst the paper has never been overly fastidious with the truth, this arrangement of falsehoods and scare-mongering is not only irresponsible but immeasurably dangerous to the National Health Service.

As a doctor who works in the NHS, I fear to imagine how we would manage if my colleagues from Ireland, Italy, Greece, Poland or Spain left their jobs as consultants, clinical fellows, registrars or house officers. It would certainly expand the existing staffing voids to breaking-point. The straightforward issue of workforce numbers aside, we would also lose the countless continental talent who contribute so much to our hospitals and research.

I wonder if Sophie Borland, the Health Correspondent for the Daily Mail, could visit hospital for a few days and witness first-hand the contribution of the 10% registered doctors and 4% registered nurses from other EU countries working in the NHS.

But what of the central premise of the Daily Mail’s campaign, that EU doctors work in the UK without safety checks and constitute a risk to the public? The Daily Mail quoted the head of the UK’s General Medical Council, Niall Dickson:

“Some European doctors – because we haven’t checked their competency – may struggle when they practise here and that could put patients at risk. We are able to assess their language skills but we cannot check their competency to practise. That’s just a reality.”

The article curiously missed out the following from the GMC: “UK patients are more protected than they used to be and the European Commission deserves credit for bringing in the fitness to practise alert mechanism, which allows regulators across Europe to share concerns about the fitness of practise of health professionals, and for giving the UK and regulators in the rest of Europe the power to require health professionals to demonstrate their ability to speak the language of their patients before granting them entry to practice.”

The GMC goes on to say “it is important to remember that employers also have a responsibility to carry out thorough pre-employment checks and make sure that the doctor is qualified and competent to carry out the duties they are being given, including having the right language skills for their particular role.”

This states the obvious: that the obligation lies with the employer for ensuring a rigorous application and interview process and then monitoring a doctor’s practice, and this should be the same whether the doctor is from the UK, Europe or the rest of the world.

However, the obvious can be ignored when a vendetta is being waged, and so the Daily Mail not only overlooks this but contraindicates itself by publishing the GMC figures:

“GMC figures for 2011 to 2015 show that just 0.55 per cent of doctors who qualified in the UK were struck off, suspended or given a warning. This compares with 1.01 per cent from the EU and 1.1 per cent from elsewhere in the world”, In summary, there was more action against non-EU doctors than EU doctors (and still a small proportion).

In a riposte to the Mail, the European Commission states in its article at blogs.ec.europa.eu: “It is out of the question that EU rules would require the UK to let linguistically or medically incompetent doctors practise. In fact, the rules – recently further reinforced in agreement with the UK – expressly require Member States to prevent such people from being employed”

This headline brings two negative consequences – firstly, patients become needlessly worried about EU doctors, which may lead to delays in seeking appropriate and timely care. Secondly, an incorrect stigma is fostered against a large group of doctors and nurses. Since Britain voted to leave the European Union, there has already been a marked reduction in applications from EU healthcare staff to work in the NHS. If those who come here from Europe and work to save lives and cure illnesses feel that they are no longer welcome and leave, then patients will really be at risk.

My article was originally posted on the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/nima-ghadiri/are-patients-at-risk-from_b_12224216.html?

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Hospitals in England are on the brink of collapse, warn NHS chiefs (The Guardian)

Sounds like a great time to introduce the world’s first routine 7 day health service, right?

 

Theresa May urged to boost funding or ration care to head off escalating cash crisis and avoid ‘1990s-style decline’

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/sep/10/hospitals-on-brink-of-collapse-say-health-chiefs

The body that represents hospitals across England has issued a startling warning that the NHS is close to breaking point because of its escalating cash crisis.

Years of underfunding have left the service facing such “impossible” demands that without urgent extra investment in November’s autumn statement it will have to cut staff, bring in charges or introduce “draconian rationing” of treatment – all options that will provoke public disquiet, it says.

In an unprecedentedly bleak assessment of the NHS’s own health, NHS Providers, which speaks for hospital trust chairs and chief executives, tells ministers that widespread breaches of performance targets, chronic understaffing and huge overspends by hospitals mean that it is heading back to the visible decline it last experienced in the 1990s.

“Taken together this means the NHS is increasingly failing to do the job it wants to do and the public needs it to do, through no fault of its own,” Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, writes in the Observer.

His intervention comes days before the influential Commons health select committee decides whether to launch a special inquiry into the state of the NHS in England. After months dominated by the Brexit debate, the state of the NHS is now emerging as the key domestic challenge facing Theresa May’s government.

Recalling the NHS’s deterioration in the 1990s, which caused political problems for John Major’s government, Hopson adds: “NHS performance rarely goes off the edge of a cliff. As the 1990s showed, instead we get a long, slow decline that is only fully visible in retrospect. It’s therefore difficult to isolate a single point in that downward trajectory to sound a warning bell. But NHS trust chairs and chief executives are now ringing that bell. We face a stark choice of investing the resources required to keep up with demand or watching the NHS slowly deteriorate. They are saying it is impossible to provide the right quality of service and meet performance targets on the funding available. Something has to give.”

In a direct appeal to May to increase NHS funding in the autumn statement in November, Hopson warns the government will face “unpalatable choices” if the service is to keep within the existing budget. “The logical areas to examine would be more draconian rationing of access to care, formally relaxing performance targets, shutting services, extending and increasing charges, cutting the priorities the NHS is trying to deliver or, more explicitly, controlling the size of the NHS workforce,” says Hopson.

His warning comes days after the NHS posted its worst set of performance figures for services such as A&E, planned operations and ambulance response times.

Hopson blames the “full-blown crisis in social care” created by cuts to town hall budgets for causing “major problems for the NHS”, such as record numbers of healthy patients who cannot be discharged because social care is not available. This means that “hospitals are now being asked to routinely run at capacity levels that risk patient safety”.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP who was a health minister in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, said Hopson’s “absolutely accurate reflection” of life on the frontline showed that “the government is in total denial about the reality of the state of the NHS and that they continue to mislead”.

“Ministers refer to ‘£10bn extra’, which to many people will seem a lot of money. But that £10bn is being stretched in a number of directions, including to pay for the seven-day NHS. Everyone who has looked into the finances of both the NHS and care system knows that this is nowhere near enough. We are the world’s fifth or sixth largest economy so it’s really horrendous that, despite our relative wealth, we have a health and social care system that is on its knees,” he added.

Chris Ham, the King’s Fund’s chief executive, said: “The clear message from the NHS leaders, doctors and nurses I’ve spoken to is that they are increasingly unable to cope with rising demand for services, maintain standards of care and stay within their budgets.

“The government must be honest with the public about what the NHS can deliver with the funding it has been given. It is simply not realistic to expect hard-pressed staff to deliver new commitments like seven-day services while also meeting waiting-time targets and reducing financial deficits.”

A government spokesman said: “We know the NHS is under pressure because of our ageing population, but we rightly expect the service to continue to ensure that patients get treated quickly.”

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More garbage from the Daily Mail: Junior Doctors

Screenshot 2016-09-06 00.06.10

Where’s Joseph McCarthy when you need him to sort out all these evil treasonous commie junior doctors? #Redperil

Here is the chap who wrote the piece:

image
 

Interestingly, back before he joined his spiritual home (The Daily Mail), he was admonished by his future employers for failing to read Twitter’s terms and conditions:

image
 

He seems like a fastidious proponent for the truth, doesn’t he?

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Studying The Kiwis: Could Britain’s Junior Doctors Learn From New Zealand?

As the British Medical Association (BMA) prepares for another meeting to discuss further industrial action against the government’s proposed junior doctor contract, the New Zealand Resident Doctor’s Association (NZRDA) has also announced a campaign for a better contract for junior doctors, with the threat of strikes on the horizon. Can British Doctors and their union learn from New Zealand?
Following a year-long stalemate punctuated by brief periods of attrition, Britain’s junior doctors remain locked in a dispute with the government over a proposed new contract, warning of “escalated” industrial action should the Government refuse to address concerns over patient safety and fairness. This is likely to encompass a rolling programme of strikes, starting in September. The BMA Junior Doctors Committee claim that worries have been repeatedly raised and not addressed, including concerns about weekend working and pay for those working less than full time.

JDC chair Ellen McCourt has said:

“Forcing a contract on junior doctors in which they don’t have confidence, that they don’t feel is good for their patients or themselves, is not something they can accept”.

Echoing events in Britain, New Zealand’s Resident Doctors Association (NZRDA) called for changes to junior doctor working patterns, including the number of potential consecutive 10-hour night shifts to be reduced from seven to four, and the number of consecutive day shifts to be reduced from 12 to 10.

The campaign is focusing entirely on patient safety and has centred on a strong social media presence with clear statements and images:

http://www.nzrda.org.nz/

Highly publicized figures from NZRDA’s survey of its 3600 members reported that 300 doctors had fallen asleep behind the wheel on the way back from work, and more than 1000 doctors had made a mistake which affected patient care due to exhaustion. The NZRDA has warned that if there are no changes to rosters, there will be industrial action for the third time after previous strikes in 1992 and 2006.

http://www.newshub.co.nz

The NZRDA was originally founded in 1985. In contrast to Britain’s BMA it represents only Junior Doctors, not all doctors. British doctors moving to New Zealand are often surprised about the power and proactive nature of the organisation. The face of the NZRDA for the last few decades has been the organisation’s National Secretary Dr Deborah Powell. She is perceived by doctors, media and public alike as a fiery and uncompromising battleaxe who persistently wields clout in negotiations.

http://www.nzrda.org.nz/

These negotiations have yielded a number of benefits over time for junior doctors in New Zealand, which have included: consistent increases in pay, final year medical students being given a salary, free canteen food during working hours, training and membership costs being covered, presence of cross-cover and relief doctors to cover short-term absences, ease in going out-of-training for family or travel. There is even a motivation for hospitals and clinics to ensure that their junior doctors claim all of their annual and study leave, as the amount not used becomes “cashed out” as a payment.

In the few instances when conditions have deteriorated, the NZRDA has been aggressive. In April 2008, they gave notice of a nationwide 48-hour strike over pay, conditions and ongoing issues of retention, as 40% of Kiwi doctors were moving to Australia. At the time, a first year house-surgeon in NZ earned 88,000 NZD (£40,000) on average. Junior doctors sought a 10% pay rise over three consecutive years (twice that of other health service workers) rather than two rises of 4% over two years.

The strikes were widely seen as a success which brought the desired outcome for the doctors, caused no harm to patients (indeed, emergency department waiting times were markedly reduced), has improved retention of doctors and made New Zealand a very attractive destination for British and other doctors. They have also underlined the power of the NZRDA to fight annually for better conditions.

http://www.saferhours.co.nz/
The success of these victories is reflected by a reversal in the exodus of Kiwi doctors to the United Kingdom, such that British doctors are now flocking to New Zealand at record levels. We can only speculate whether a single-minded force such as Deborah Powell may have challenged the various events which have taken place over the last decade and reduced morale of British junior doctors to such an extent: Loss of House Officer Accommodation, shortages of training posts, the ill-received Medical Training Application System (MTAS), pay increases below inflation, consistently increasing GMC and examination fees.

How would the NZRDA manage if metaphorically transplanted onto the negotiating table closer to home? Their use of punchy statements and images, peppered with some humour, has helped the public clearly identify the junior doctors’ argument. Based on their track record, would they have hesitated to legally challenge the UK government: particularly on Jeremy Hunt’s early assertion that we do not already have a seven-day emergency NHS, a proclamation which has already led to well-documented patient harm?

http://www.saferhours.co.nz/

Watching the British and New Zealand negotiations developing in parallel will be an interesting comparison of the relative power of government and employers’ union in both countries.

Also published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/nima-ghadiri/new-zealand-junior-doctors-uk_b_11675406.html

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