As a nation, we have spent the last month endlessly talking about PPE, testing and even ventilators, remorselessly picking over the technical details of things which most people still do not understand. The government is pleased for us to do this because it keeps us off the one topic they have no answer for; the elephant in the room of a totally inadequate healthcare workforce stretched to breaking point. Even with all the goodwill in the world, re-calling retired doctors and nurses doesn’t solve it.
There are many good reasons why the NHS is supposed to run at 85% of capacity; one is so that there is then some slack in the system for unforeseen emergencies. That has not happened in the last few years as successive Conservative governments have squeezed the service harder and harder driving capacity dangerously close to 95% and beyond, not addressed staffing shortages at all levels and reduced the bed numbers by too much (by at least 7,000) Eventually acknowledged by Jeremy Hunt himself towards the end of his 7+year tenure as Secretary of state for Health and Social Care.
The summer ‘respite’ for the health service didn’t happen last year or the year before, or the year before that, and the workforce has remained thousands short across the board; GPs, hospital specialists and trainees, nurses and care workers, result; an exhausted workforce close to burn-out. Add to this the wanton neglect of an able and willing EU workforce over 100,000 which was pushed out by a hostile environment as Brexit became a reality at the end of 2019 and here we are reaping the whirlwind.
We are a political party, and opposition parties have to hold the government to account for its political choices, in my view, a national emergency does not change that, and I don’t hear anyone doing this. Kier Starmer said at the weekend he broadly supported the government but would shine a torch on its shortcomings.
This week it has become obvious that the social care workforce has been totally neglected in all the razzamatazz as the govt tried to catch up and limit headlines to the so-called ‘frontline’ of the NHS furthermore that likely COVID deaths in care homes and the community are not even being counted -extraordinary.
We Liberal Democrats have many policies in support of the Health and Social Care workforce, and we need to be shouting about these, now. The workforce is on its knees with 25% off sick or in isolation on any one day and people being asked to commit to 12hour shifts, six days a week in areas outside their expertise. It’s this which will turn out to be the limiting factor in how many lives can be saved; there are simply not enough people to cover the workload
* Catherine Royce was reviously PPC for Uxbridge (2001) and Romsey (2017) as well as being on the Liberal Democrat Women executive. She is currently a member of the Federal Policy Committee and the Liberal International British Group Executive.