It’s been two months and it was sadly predictable. If you close two out of nine A&E departments in one of the mostly densely populated parts of the country the remaining services will be tested to breaking point. A further two A&E closures are planned in the same area early next year.
So it is hardly surprising that for the last two weeks of October London North West Hospital Trust’s two remaining A&E departments sit rock bottom of England’s A&E waiting times rankings.
The marginal improvements since then are nothing to celebrate – London North West Hospitals trust has been in the worst ten trusts since September.
This translates as a least 3,500 individual patients waiting in A&E for more than four hours for treatment in West London since early September. It feels like we are going back to the bad old days of a Government failing to invest in the NHS.
A picture is emerging. An injury to a vulnerable person, not life threatening but terrifying nonetheless, calls 999 but is told to get public transport because the ambulance service is at breaking point. The local A&E has closed so they have to travel to an unusual part of London. They are uneasy negotiating public transport with an injury which needs medical attention. When they eventually get to the A&E, they feel relived, yet treatment doesn’t come for at least four hours. What an ordeal.
Is this how it was meant to be? Is this the NHS we were promised? Is this how the founders in 1948 saw the NHS at 66 years?
We have heard from the overworked and under-pressure nurses, doctors and ambulance crews at across London and how they are working hard to cope with the lack of beds, increasing patient numbers and deep funding cuts.
Now NHS London, as part of their ill-conceived and publicly opposed “Shaping a Healthier Future” Strategy, plans to close the maternity ward and A&E at Ealing Hospital in March 2015. This is simply illogical, short-sighted and tantamount to vandalism. If nothing else, it will make an already dangerous situation worse.
The effects of these closures are felt throughout London, as evidenced by the poor performance of Hillingdon and Imperial NHS trusts surrounding west London. These hospitals are dragged down by the desperate attempt to cope with the natural rise in patients as population increases and the artificial tragedy created by the recent closures.
The desperate situation in the hospitals of London continues to decline. It is exasperated by an ambulance service which can no longer cope and a London wide GP crisis where few people can get an appointment when they need it. Mental health services for young people and minority groups are not up to standard and we have one of the worst records for cancer patient experience across the country.
The health realities in London display broad health inequalities which are only getting worse.
Scores of volunteers and professionals dedicate their lives to helping improve these services, to make a real difference to the lives of Londoners, only to have no support whatsoever from the Government.
What we need is a total rethink of care itself, to create a new model which will be better for patients, focused around their needs and financially secure the NHS and social care for the future. Call it ‘Whole person Care’- which is exactly the transformational change we need in NHS and Social Services, if we are to cope with 21stCentury healthcare challenges.
Under this Government it is simple – waiting times have gone up, A&E are closing, it is harder to see a GP and ambulances are struggling
We need a Government who will put our NHS first not treat it as an inconvenience. All we know now is that the resilience of the system being tested to breaking point and no one is sure how much more it can take.
Dr Onkar Sahota is a Member of the Greater London Assembly for Ealing and Hillingdon, as well as a practicing GP in West London.