Ministers must control the crisis plaguing the National Health Service or risk their collapse, senior doctors warned after a “shocking” and “devastating” special report by The Guardian exposed the “everyday reality” of the pressure health workers face and its “dire impact” on patients.
Thirty-three months after the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, the Guardian spent 33 hours inside the NHSreporting from inside a hospital, an ambulance service, a pharmacy and a GP’s office.
Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, and Professor Philip Banfield, president of the British Medical Association, said the “vivid” and “disturbing” account of the front line should serve as a wake-up call for government.
Without action to increase NHS capacity, retain and recruit staff and solve long-standing problems in social care, they said, more patients would die, and the service itself was at risk of collapsing entirely.
“Nearly three years since the start of the pandemic, the 33 hours chronicled in this article are the day-to-day experiences of our members, their colleagues, and people in communities across the country who are in such desperate need of care,” Banfield said. . “Many will find it shocking.”
Covid is no longer the dominant and deadly factor it once was, The Guardian has found. But the NHS now faces an even bigger challenge, the report showed, with a record backlog and relentless rise in sick people needing urgent care, plus many other factors, including a massive workforce crisis.
“This is a vivid and disturbing illustration of the daily reality faced by those who work on the front lines of our health and social care services, and the terrible impact that the current pressures are having on patients,” said Banfield. “The NHS was tense even before the arrival of Covid-19, and now it is teetering on the brink of collapse.
“Doctors, nurses and their colleagues in health and social care, as seen in this article, are making heroic efforts to try to deliver care in unimaginably challenging circumstances.”
The Guardian special report also highlighted how an NHS “understaffed and under-resourced” meant that remaining staff, many of whom are “exhausted and demoralised” after 33 months battling Covid, were now “closer to the door of exit,” Banfield said.
“Stories like this illustrate that patient care is already suffering as demand outpaces capacity, so losing more staff at this critical time would be a disaster.” “This should be a wake-up call for the government to show its commitment to value and retain staff, and to protect patients.”
Boyle, the country’s top-ranking ER doctor, also welcomed the report, adding that he believed it should prompt immediate action.
“The Guardian has recorded and reported our daily reality,” he said. “Our members across the UK will be familiar with every anecdote, quote and story within this. We need to act now before the depths of winter drag us down further and more patients die.”
The biggest problem exposed and explained by The Guardian, he said, was the struggle to discharge medically fit patients, which is the main driver of “poor flow in our hospitals”.
In the short term, the social care workforce needs to be strengthened to ensure timely discharge of patients, Boyle said. “It is vital that we can control this.”
Samantha Wathen, of the Keep Our NHS Public campaign group, said the “critically important” report was a “devastating assessment of how far the NHS has fallen”. “It perfectly highlights the human side and the very real repercussions on NHS workers and patients that over a decade of government underfunding and staffing has caused,” she added.
“We can only hope that this work will somehow help persuade the government to urgently change things for the better. The current situation in the NHS is both untenable and inhumane.”
Saffron Cordery, acting chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “The findings of this investigation will likely hold true for many trusted leaders in ambulance, mental health and community services.”
Daisy Cooper MP, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats and health spokesperson for the party, said reports in The Guardian had exposed the impact of “absolute neglect” of the NHS by ministers.
“Every one of these stories is absolutely horrifying,” he said. “This should serve as a wake-up call to the Conservative government that the NHS cannot be abandoned for another minute.”
Labor MP Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said the special report highlighted “the terrifying consequence of 12 years of Conservative failure to train the staff the NHS needs”.
The government declined to comment.