Yesterday my husband saw the Haematology team to be told his cancer was in remission. We left the hospital grateful for the good prognosis, and thankful that we lived in a country with high-quality health care. Over the course of his treatment, from hospital stays to bone marrow biopsies, from chemotherapy to scans, we have been impressed with the professionals overseeing his care. We have not been made bankrupt through high medical bills and he had time off work for his recovery. It was horrendous and worrying, but the NHS was there for us.
However, lack of government funding means that not everyone is getting the same quality of care we have experienced. Recent stories in the papers highlight the shortfall now being experienced by many hospital trusts. There was a combined overspend of around £850 million by ten NHS hospital trusts in England in 2018. Funding per patient has been cut year by year since 2010.
The data is harrowing. Whilst my husband had a good experience with his cancer treatment, the statistics show many others do not.
Four of the cancer waiting-time standards were failed: two-week GP referral to first outpatient appointment; 14-day referral to first outpatient – breast symptoms; 62-day (urgent GP referral) waiting time target for first treatment; and 62-day screening from service referral.
These waiting times didn’t apply in the same way to us as my husband was hospitalised with a severe infection and in trying to figure out the cause of the infection, cancer was found. But for those being referred by GPs for outpatient appointments, the delay of treatment and the extended worry whilst waiting for an appointment adds even more stress to the uncertainty one experiences before receiving a diagnosis.
Staff shortfalls are affecting quality – the most recent figures show 100,000 staff vacancies across the medical professions, with 11% of nursing jobs vacant. Lib Dems are calling for reinstatement of nursing bursaries – the need to train sufficient staff is now more urgent than ever. Current staff are doing as much as they can do, but they are only human and there will be limits to what the NHS can offer if there are not enough staff to provide services.
The NHS is one of the bedrocks of British society – it needs proper funding and should not be allowed to fail. Providing good health care to all citizens is one way we tackle inequality – and all of us, at one time or another, will rely on the NHS.
* Kirsten Johnson is the PPC for North Devon and Day Editor of Lib Dem Voice.