Rachael's Column: NHS - We Cannot Let This Go On

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The warnings were well aired, but repeatedly ignored. The warm winters kept the crisis away, but this winter’s NHS meltdown was expected.

It reminds me of 1996, when I worked in the NHS. Underfunding and understaffing resulted in staff working round the clock to try and hold the NHS together, as they are today. Our exceptional NHS staff continue to provide a professional and caring service, despite all the pressures placed on them.

We cannot let this go on. The Health and Social Care Act 2012, has driven an expensive market into the NHS, diverted billions of pounds into administrative functions, away from patient care, and set up a system that drives people into A&E, the most expensive part of the NHS, rather than supporting them at home.

Last summer I warned York Hospital that the decision to close Archways, a transitional care unit, was a huge mistake, as it not only provided the right rehabilitation environment to help patients prepare for home, but also took the pressure away from acute wards. York Hospital is now challenged with long waiting times at A&E, diverting ambulances to other sites and at one point had 15 ambulances queuing in the car park. But instead of investment, last autumn we learnt of more rationing and cuts.

It is not just in acute care, of course, the chronic underfunding and staffing of community services and social care is at the heart of why the acute sector is under so much pressure. This is why at the last election Labour promised a National Health and Care Service to bring the services together, from hospital to home, placing the patient at the centre.

We also continue to witness challenges within our mental health services and nationally, we now have 6,600 fewer nurses and 400 fewer doctors than in 2010 working in mental health. Instead of committing to the investment urgently required, the recent speech made by the Prime Minister was just a repeat of her predecessor from the year before, re-announcing the same £1bn, which still remains unspent.

The economic cost of mental illness is £105bn, but the cost to those trying to manage their illness is substantially higher. I recently requested to meet with the Mental Health Minister to discuss services in York, and was initially sent a letter of refusal. It wasn’t until I made the situation public that the Minister u-turned and agreed to meet. This is simply not good enough; the Government need to be proactive when it comes to mental health and I will be using my time with the Minister to outline the very serious concerns I continue to have over our mental health services in York.

It is also important to know that, whilst there are challenges in the system, every hour of every day there are 100s of dedicated people sitting by a phone wanting to help if needed. The Samaritans in York, are there to help, understand problems, or are just there to listen and all it takes is to dial 116123 to reach immediate help. Likewise York Mind, Young Minds and many services right across the community have people that are there and ready to help.

As the Bootham Park Hospital consultation closes, it is essential that York now enters a new chapter in delivering mental health services to all, based on meeting everyone’s need, and this Friday, I’ll be speaking at a conference in the city to usher in this new era.


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