This winter crisis is worse

Hearing the words NHS winter crisis as we enter what is the 70th anniversary year of the NHS, cynics may ask what is different about this winter.

Thursday, 11th January 2018, 3:30 pm
North Tyneside General Hospital, Rake Lane, North Shields

There is, however, evidence that this winter crisis is worse than usual, though government data delays mean the scale may not be evident until much later in the year.

I am relieved that our local Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, unlike others, has been able to keep bed occupancy at a safe level.

It’s down to hard-pressed staff, including managers, that this has been possible, but my visit last week brought home how difficult things are for them.

The norovirus and flu are having a devastating effect, with pressure on beds, limits on visiting and cancelled operations.

This crisis was foreseeable and, indeed, foreseen.

The progress of ‘Aussie’ flu had been tracked since mid-2017; norovirus is not unprecedented.

Underlying causes, however, turned big challenges into a full-blown crisis.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust kept bed occupancy levels safe, but cuts meant 150 fewer beds in the last five years, making the challenge much more difficult.

The government was warned early last year that a winter fund was needed, but waited until the end of the year before coming up with any additional funding, which then proved to be too little too late.

A better NHS needs resources, as well as reform or warm words, so the government needs to put its money where its mouth is.