Today as the British National Health Service (NHS) faces up to the challenges of the coronavirus I thought it was worth sharing the journey the NHS has been on over the last 10 years. I’d like to take you back to 2010 when Andrew Lansley was appointed as the UK health secretary.
Seldom has any health secretary known more about the NHS than Lansley; he could make it his specialist subject on Mastermind. But he left office almost wholly unmourned after his short term as health secretary. He succeeded in making many enemies in his short time in power which calls for a special kind of genius or bad luck on a prodigious scale.
The British Medical Association accused Lansley of misleading doctors and the public during the election over his plans for the Health and Social Care Act, which became law in March 2010 after a tortuous passage through parliament.
They added: “David Cameron’s greatest political achievement as leader of the opposition prior to becoming prime minister was to neutralise health as an issue. The greatest mistake of his time as PM has been to put it back at the centre of political debate.”
David Cameron and Andrew Lansley inherited a stable NHS and in just two years they reduced it to a demoralised service, fearful of the future. It needed leadership, stability and confidence but David Cameron and his health secretary offered none of these things.
After Cameron under Theresa May the NHS progressively became more stretched and strained. Appointments were scarce and waiting lists ballooned. Waiting times in Accident & Emergency result in one in seven having to wait for more than four hours before being diagnosed.
Finally, a sad story. The boss of Ipswich hospital in England received a request from one of his top ward sisters for a meeting. She ran the chemotherapy ward and within a few months after taking charge she had turned around the ward which cared for seriously ill patients with staff having to deal with the emotional toll when many died of their diseases.
When they met Jenny took a deep breath and opened up, “I’ve handed in my notice. I cannot take any more. I cannot switch off and it’s affecting my children. I love my job and I know it is my fault, but Sunday night was the last straw. I was called three times during the night and when I woke up in the morning I had so many missed calls.”
Her boss Nick said, “But your team shouldn’t be calling you at night.” She agreed, “but they panic and I’m their security blanket. I’ve tried weaning them off calling me, but we are so short-staffed and there’s not enough of them with the right level of knowledge and experience”.
Nick begged her to stay but Jenny refused to budge saying she had to put her children first. She said she would join the nursing bank to work occasional shifts to fill in for the 50,000 full-time nurses the NHS lacks.
With the worst of the coronavirus ahead of us we need dedicated and professional nurses like Jenny. It seems we are in real trouble.
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org