I cannot remember a time when there wasn’t political row of some sort over the NHS, or a time when there wasn’t talk of a ‘winter crisis’.
We have to set the hyperbole of media reports and the ridiculous comparisons of some commentators, such as the director of the Red Cross and his talk of an humanitarian crisis, against the realities experienced by the people that we know. Patient satisfaction with the NHS is at a record high, with patients saying they have never been treated more safely and with more dignity and more respect. The number of complaints that I receive has diminished dramatically, and the number writing to commend the care that they have received has increased correspondingly. In the last couple of weeks two people close to me have received first class care: one walked into casualty with a broken foot, and the other was taken by ambulance in an emergency with a stroke.
There are now 11,000 more nurses and 11,000 more doctors working in the NHS. On cancer, we are starting treatment for 130 more people every single day, and have achieved record cancer survival rates; we have 1,400 more people getting mental health treatment every day and some of the highest dementia diagnosis rates in the world; we are doing 5,000 more operations every day and that, despite those 5,000 more operations every day, MRSA rates have halved.
We are spending more on the NHS than ever before, with plans to increase that expenditure year on year.
There are, of course, very significant problems for which we are going to have to find solutions.
People who would ordinarily have died from a heart attack in their fifties or sixties, were saved by modern medicine over recent decades, and are now presenting in their eighties with multiple and complex nursing needs. Add to this mix the demands of a rapidly rising elderly population, and a deterioration in the health of many younger people consequent upon an obesity epidemic, and it is clear that pressure on the NHS will continue to build. Notwithstanding, that medical advances are continuing to deliver new, and expensive treatments.
The current furore has centred upon the 4 hour target within which to treat anyone who is admitted, or who walks into an hospital accident and emergency department. In recent weeks this measure has fallen from a percentage in the high nineties to the mid-eighties. The irony is however, that in terms of the raw numbers, more people are actually being treated within the target every day, because so many more are presenting – it’s winter again.