Each year during the coldest months we see increased demand on our healthcare services.
However, seasonal pressures facing our NHS, combined with chronic underfunding, have dominated the headlines this winter like never before. On Saturday evening I spent some time at Calderdale Royal to see how our hospital and its hardworking staff are coping. I met with staff and patients on the Stroke wards, and shadowed staff in A&E.
Over the Christmas and new year period, the Calderdale and Huddersfield Foundation Trust which oversees both hospitals, opened all of their escalation beds and at times of heightened demand, used the birth centre at Huddersfield to accommodate acutely unwell patients.
With the exception of time-critical and ophthalmology cases, out-patient procedures were postponed to create extra capacity for those urgent cases arriving at the hospital. Staff told me of an increase in the number of cases of the flu and norovirus which had been a challenge to manage, as well as an anticipated increase in respiratory problems affecting the young and the old, largely due to the weather and colder temperatures.
It was clear from speaking to staff including the wonderful porters, who are instrumental in moving patients in and around the hospital through to being discharged, that this journey was being undermined by the debilitating lack of social care.
I met with staff and patients on the Stroke rehabilitation ward. These patients are often older people who no longer require medical care but do require intensive social care which could be delivered either at home or, alternatively, in residential care. Despite the best efforts of partners from the Clinical Commissioning Group, Calderdale Council and the Trust, funding for social care has fallen off a cliff edge under this Government, with limited places in residential care, and budgets failing to provide the wrap-around care that some of the most vulnerable might require at home.
It’s always a humbling experience to see our dedicated NHS staff doing what they do best, caring for the sick and going over and above in an attempt to plug funding gaps with good will. But it’s not sustainable and it’s not fair on them, or on patients.
I wanted to visit Calderdale Royal following last week’s letter to Theresa May signed by 68 consultants in charge of emergency departments in acute hospitals across England and Wales.
They told the Prime Minister that the “current level of safety compromise is at times intolerable, despite the best efforts of staff.”
On the same day, statistics were published, outlining that on average, NHS Trusts managed to see just 85.1 per cent of emergency patients within the four hour target in December, equalling January 2017’s record low. Disappointingly, the target of seeing 95 per cent of patients within that timeframe has not been met nationally since July 2015.
In addition to this, the implications of a local reconfiguration on A&E services mean that unless the funding is there to really deliver ‘care closer to home’ with quality services in the community, then more and more residents from beyond Calderdale, will be adding to the pressures on our local emergency department.
Despite the dedication and hard work of the doctors, nurses and support staff right across our NHS, it is on the brink. Unless we fix social care and deliver the increased funding that experts are calling for, we will not have a healthcare service fit for the future.