It is interesting to follow Dr Johnson. I have to say respectfully that I wholeheartedly disagree with her. She speaks of some kind of NHS utopia, but that is not the reality that I have seen on our A&E frontline. I am an A&E specialist and I have worked in our NHS for the past 12 years.
When we look around an A&E department, everything is on display in high definition: people’s pain, fears, courage and hopes; the unfailing dedication, expertise and strength of the staff who work there; and yes, the state of the NHS, which is in turmoil. It is in crisis, which is turning into disaster. From hospitals across the country, we have heard that the problem is not a surface or temporary issue.
The symptoms of the NHS crisis are all connected and multiply into new problems. That is not seen in statistics alone, but it is seen in A&E departments, which are completely overcrowded. People feel forced to come to A&E who should not be there: people who could not get a GP appointment or who had to wait too long for a hip replacement and are now in severe pain. Taken together with the emergency cases—from heart attacks and strokes to road traffic accidents—it is simply too much for the resources that we have.
The reality is stark. Cubicles are full because there is no space to move patients on to wards. The wards are full because our social care system is woefully inadequate and broken. When all beds are full, we see ambulances queuing up outside hospitals. They are full of patients who cannot get hospital care. What do we say to a mother or a father who is in an ambulance with their child, scared and anxious, and has to wait outside the hospital for another hour?
Doctors are too stretched to do the job we are trained to do. We are the recipients of first-class education and training in the UK and we cannot deliver the very thing that we know to be right: to treat the cause, not just the symptoms. There is little time for prevention.
On new year’s eve, when I worked in A&E, we had a teenage girl who fainted. We treated her and spent time talking to her, but we pride ourselves on being able to find root causes: is there an underlying eating disorder or is she being bullied at home or at school? To have those conversations, we need to build trust, which takes time. If we do not do that, the patient is more likely to return, sometimes in pain because their operation has been cancelled. A teenager who faints at school might need to be part of child and adolescent mental health services. That all places a burden on our already stretched NHS. It will not change until this Government decide to live up to their most sacred duty: the protection of the health and security of us all. The NHS is underfunded and overwhelmed.