The Tory plans to close four A&E departments in West London – Central Middlesex, Hammersmith, Charing Cross and Ealing – will affect 1.9m people in the capital. This will also put massive pressure on neighbouring Northwick Park Hospital which will be expected to serve as the sole A&E for all four. These plans, caused by the government forcing hospitals in North West London to make £120m worth of savings leaves millions of people travelling much further to their nearest A&E; in some cases with journeys lasting over an hour.
People visiting these A&E departments are already ill and failure to care for them quickly and appropriately will only end up costing the NHS more. Along with this long term knock-on effect, more immediately we will see waiting times increase, an alarming prospect when they are already at a nine year high
Earlier this week NHS England announced that the Health Service needs to find £30bn worth of efficiency savings between 2015 and 2020 to meet the increasing demand for services. But it is difficult to see how the NHS can continue to improve patient outcomes while the government continues to cut funding and close services.
The only way we can sustainably reduce healthcare costs is to provide better patient outcomes. Closing A&E departments shifts the problem, but doesn’t get to grips with the increasing demand for services. Similarly reducing the number of healthcare practitioners when patients in the NHS need better quality care to help manage their illness is sheer madness; hospitals are already understaffed and struggling to fill shifts – I should know, I used to place nurses directly into these very hospitals.
Since 2010 over 4000 nurses have lost their jobs and the CQC have warned that 1 in 10 hospitals are struggling to maintain satisfactory staffing levels. The Keogh Review, released this week, highlighted poor staffing levels as a key reason why 14 NHS Trusts are struggling to provide adequate patient care.
Providing better patient outcomes requires healthcare services to meet the needs of patients directly. The prevention of disease and better support for people to manage the risk factors and behaviours associated with ill health is essential. The Tories once again have failed to put patients first. The embarrassing u-turn on plain packaging of cigarettes and a minimum pricing on alcohol puts business interests ahead of the 570 children who tried a cigarette today, and the two vulnerable groups of people who are most likely to drink cheap alcohol: the young and heavy drinkers.
Ensuring that patients are diagnosed earlier will also have a huge impact. More accessible healthcare services in local communities and patient awareness programmes, especially for conditions like diabetes which is both preventable and ably managed if patients receive quality care in time. Diabetes UK estimates that 50% of people with type 2 diabetes already experience complications at diagnosis, and that the NHS spends £8bn on treating complications associated with diabetes. Furthermore one in five patients in hospital has diabetes.
Closing A&E units will not stop these people having a manageable but also life threatening illness, it simply means accessing emergency support will be much more difficult.
Of course the NHS is not perfect and mistakes do happen, and I agree with those who say that patients should receive more care outside of hospitals, in local communities, and that services need to be reshaped so that patients really are at the heart of them. But closing A&E departments does not put patients at the heart of the NHS. It leaves them isolated and adrift of life saving services and does nothing to solve the problem in the first place.
It shows once again that the Tories can’t be trusted with the NHS.