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article imageOp-Ed: Britain's National Health Service reform

By Eileen Kersey     Jan 6, 2013 in Politics
The NHS used to be called the "Pride of Britain". In recent years it has faced reform after reform and news of its failings have shocked the nation. Can the NHS endure the coalition's planned reforms and become a better service?
In 2006 UK PM Tony Blair called the NHS "the Pride of Britain". Since its creation in 1946 the NHS has faced many challenges. An increasing population, a more mixed ethnic origin of patients, new treatments and diagnostics, different drains on its resources and periods of underfunding have all challenged the efficiency of the NHS.
Writing about the failings of Stafford Hospitals left me wanting to write about the NHS from my perspective.
The NHS has been available to me throughout my life. Born in 1952, it was a fairly new idea when I was young. It has meant that the concept of only receiving health treatment if I have money or insurance thankfully has escaped me. As a child, listening to a great aunt who had all her teeth extracted with no anesthetic, I was horrified. For her, after her mother died when the girl was aged 12, life had been tough. Paying 6d, that is six old pennies, for anaesthetic was just too high a price to pay. By this time it was between the two great wars and during the depression.
The generations in Britain since 1946 have fared much better. Down the years my parents and then myself paid National Insurance contributions, which were initially aimed at helping to fund health care. Lifestyle changes, and changes in society, since 1952 have meant that the NHS has found it hard to keep pace.
There have been times when the NHS has wasted money as if it was going out of fashion. There have been other times when funding has been cut to the bone.
As a patient I have undergone a tonsillectomy as a child, an appendectomy as a young woman and cataract surgery a couple of years ago. Added to this there have been doctor's appointments, dental treatment, diagnostics, minor treatments and more. All were on the NHS. Perhaps I have been lucky, as in almost every case I received exceptional care.
I know however, that is not always the case. I worked for the NHS between 1999 and the end of 2012. My roles were administrative, although mainly on hospital wards.
The nursing profession, often called the caring profession, is no longer that. There are still many excellent nurses but sadly others who are not. For most the profession is no longer a vocation. For some it is a way to acquire a "cheap degree".
MP Ann Clwyd openly wept in the Commons in early December as she recalled her husband's final days in an NHS hospital. He had died six weeks earlier. Ann asked PM Cameron what he intended to do about nurses who did not show compassion. Here is what Ann said about her husband and his death,
Owen was a tall man, 6ft 2in, and he died cramped and squashed against the bars of his bed like a battery hen. He had an oxygen mask that didn’t fit properly and cut into his chin. When I asked for a better fitting one, they said, “Oh, we don’t think so”. ‘Almost every request I made was ignored or dismissed. His lips were very dry and I couldn’t understand why nobody was moistening them. I used my own lip salve on them. ‘I saw a nurse in the corridor and asked her why my husband wasn’t in intensive care. She just said, “There are lots worse than him”, and walked on. ‘Previously, I had asked another nurse if a doctor had seen him that day, and she said: “No, but we know what to do.
Does any of that shock you? It should but it does not me. My father-in-law spent his last days on a hospital ward as cancer took hold. He died in 1997, after around three weeks in hospital. The family noted then, that the fact he had a large family was a bonus. Not all patients have someone to speak up for them, to help them eat and drink or go to the toilet and above all to be there, even if only from time to time and see what is going on. We ensured he was rarely alone but what if you have no loved ones alive?
I have seen some excellent standards of care, when staff have far beyond the call of duty. However, I have seen and known the other side of the coin.
The NHS continues to endure reform. The old adage that if it is not fixed why mend it is never applied. Each change of direction is costly. NHS workers often say "if you work here long enough you will see each change come around again". The effect on staff is low morale and in some cases despair. Many are simply earning a living, waiting for that day when they can take their pension and go.
So, can the NHS endure the coalition's planned reforms and become a better service? Perhaps, but the jury is out. From personal experience locally, wards have been closed to cut costs and streamline the service. This results in ongoing bed pressures. Jobs are frozen most of the time which reduces staff numbers. In a crisis, even just the winter vomiting one, it is difficult to perform efficiently.
Savings need to be made but those determining where the savings will come from are inevitably at the top. This means that the cuts will be front line and lower paid staff rather than executive posts or "project managers" and the like.
Getting the compassion back into the NHS must be a priority but how you achieve that, if staff are left run ragged, face pay and job cuts and feel undervalued is unclear.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about NHS, nhs reform, UK politics, UK health, british nhs
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