For an already struggling service, crippled by staffing issues and rising patient demand, it remains puzzling how increasing working hours and reducing funding will help it to improve in quality
Jeremy Hunt has promised to revolutionise the failing NHS by holding them to the same standards as other services provided by the government.
Believing that the NHS hospitals no longer provide quality service, he wishes to change the culture of NHS workers. This will involve policies such as ensuring hospital consultants are required to work on weekends and changing the contracts of junior doctors.
On the surface this seems logical. There have been serious deficiencies in the NHS service ranging from failing to provide the necessary care for mental illness patients to neglect of the elderly. However, the NHS faces grave difficulties as it has to keep providing for an ever-increasing population and as the Independent reports, it also faces £8bn in cuts from 2015 to 2020 as well as a further £22bn slash in the public service.
The NHS was created as a form of hope, to alleviate the suffering and anguish after WWII. However, with such formidable cuts it will struggle to deliver a satisfactory service. It seems that Jeremy Hunt has forgotten that the mission of the NHS is to provide a service for everyone irrespective of income and social differences. These cuts are unsustainable and amongst chronic staff shortages, which as the Guardian reports reach ‘up to 3,000’, hospital trusts have resorted to recruiting doctors from overseas to aid in supplementing the staff team.
The proposed change to contracts has had the effect of demoralising doctors further. Many fear that the 80-hour week will return as employers will no longer be required to abide by European working time regulations. This not only discourages many from pursuing a medical career but also, and more importantly, places increasing pressure on new staff with little training which may lead to added risks for patients.
A further difficulty is that the government wishes to reduce immigration but the more stringent visa requirements anticipated will only further hinder an already understaffed health service.
Also, the UK is facing a debt crisis and the cuts to public services were created in order diminish liability and so the government deficit has reached its lowest level since the financial crisis at £107.7bn. The Chancellor wishes to settle the deficit by the 2018-19 fiscal year. This of course has further exacerbated the pressure that the NHS faces; regulators have reported that the NHS is in the ‘worst financial crisis in a generation’ and predict that in 2015 alone it will add a further £2bn to its deficit.
To reduce the deficit by the Chancellor’s forecasted date Jeremy Hunt must continue to find further areas for cuts from one of the biggest sectors of public spending. However, isolating doctors and announcing that they need to work harder when they are already overstretched, thereby forcing people to work in a more stressful and competitive environment, can only result in a reduction of efficiency and care. Some hospitals are failing and need to ensure they continue to provide the best services for the public. However, many more are suffering because of the rigorous policies that are being recommended by the bureaucrats in Whitehall with little consensus from doctors and workers.
Jeremy Hunt expects the impossible from an already starved NHS. He wants it to provide great quality care while simultaneously discouraging others from following the health profession by making unfavourable changes to working contracts and reducing the budget available.
The NHS cannot survive and provide a heart-line for all that need it. In reality, with these problems patient care is only going to diminish in quality until the NHS is no longer the beacon of hope that provides services for all. It will rather be another bureaucratic mistake by Whitehall with failing budgets and worst of all, it will be a failure to the British people for whom the NHS is a treasured resource.