THE GMB union has warned lives are being put at risk as new figures show 30,000 NHS patients were hit by delays of more than an hour so far this winter.
Although the total number of patients arriving at hospitals by ambulance was similar to last year, the number of arrivals delayed by more than an hour shot up by a staggering 75.9 per cent compared to last winter.
And a shocking 120,000 patient conveyances were delayed by more than half an hour, GMB’s analysis shows.
The figures, which cover the NHS in England, are for the period from the start of December to the 26 of January.
The union said that the reasons for the rise in delays include inadequate funding, unmanageable workloads, cuts to social care, handover delays when a patient reaches a hospital, and an increase in calls that do not require urgent medical attention.
Rachel Harrison, GMB National Officer for the NHS, said: ‘These shocking figures must be a wake-up call because patients’ lives are at risk.
‘Ambulance services are under incredible pressure but resources have not increased in line with rising demand.
‘Our ambulance members are dedicated professionals but everyone has their breaking point.
‘Urgent action is needed to address the crisis in ambulance services because staff and patients cannot endure another winter like this.’
- West Suffolk hospital has meanwhile been downgraded amid a catalogue of failings and staff bullying, as a damning CQC report found tensions were so great they had affected the running of health secretary Matt Hancock’s local hospital.
The ‘threatening and intimidating’ tactics used against doctors at West Suffolk resulted in the biggest rating downgrade by the NHS regulator, following the hospital’s demand for fingerprinting to track down a whistleblower which was ‘unprecedented and concerning’, according to the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
This and a series of other failings around patient safety have led to the first ever relegation of a hospital from an ‘outstanding’ status to ‘requires improvement’ by CQC inspectors.
The regulator’s in-depth inspection was triggered after 10 separate whistleblowers from the hospital voiced alarm. When the CQC went in they found:
- Management and doctors at loggerheads and that had led to a damaging breakdown in relationships.
- What a senior doctor at the hospital called a ‘them and us’ situation.
- Tensions so great that they were affecting the running of the hospital’s medical services.
- Staff ‘feared reprisals if they raised concerns’.
* Widespread concern about ‘bullying and harassment’.
The trust had hired fingerprint and handwriting experts to track down the member of staff who had anonymously tipped off a family about medical blunders that had occurred before a patient – 57-year-old Susan Warby – died.
Staff felt the written demands for fingerprints was ‘quite threatening in nature with a focus for apportioning blame’, inspectors found. The heavy-handed tactics ‘had far-reaching effects … impacting on (staff) health and wellbeing, culture and morale of those involved’.
Executives were more focussed on who had sent the letter rather than why they had done so and whether the hospital’s systems were strong enough to ensure patient safety, the CQC added.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said the CQC’s findings were ‘deeply worrying’ and condemned the hospital’s ‘toxic culture (and) bullying’.
‘Doctors should be able to raise genuine concerns, particularly where patient safety is at risk, without fear of retribution,’ said Dr Rob Harwood, chair of the BMA’s consultants committee.
‘It is totally unacceptable that some staff have reported feeling threatened or blamed in relation to internal investigations.’
The CQC’s conclusions raise awkward questions for Hancock about what he knew regarding the deep internal divisions, and demand for fingerprints, and what he did to redress the issues. Hancock, who has championed NHS whistleblowers’ role in exposing lapses in care, is a keen admirer of Steve Dunn, the hospital’s chief executive, who in 2018 was made a CBE for services to health and patient safety.
- Meanwhile, responding to a new report from the Children’s Commissioner for England on the state of children’s mental healthcare, Fiona Smith, RCN professional lead for children and young people’s nursing, said:
‘It cannot be right that in some parts of England children are expected to suffer in silence because the services they rely on aren’t prioritised and resourced properly. If the roots of mental illness aren’t treated early, they can have damaging life-long effects.
‘There not only needs to be more money put into children’s mental health, but CCGs, the very bodies who plan the delivery of services at a local level, must resist the urge to shift the burden of providing this care to education providers and social services – children’s mental health is a health problem first and foremost and planners need to prioritise the mental wellbeing of future generations.
‘But crucially, there needs to be substantial investment in school nursing and children’s and young people’s mental health nurses, who are trained to spot signs of mental crises developing and can provide support to children and young people at a much earlier stage.’
- In the context of this, and in what is manifestly a further push to privatise the NHS, the Tory Health secretary has launched competition in the NHS in more ways than just one.
The health secretary has launched a competition for companies to receive a share of £140 million to ‘fast-track’ artificial intelligence (AI) to NHS staff and patients.
The new investment scheme, known as the AI Award, will see companies selected on the basis of their potential to ‘transform patient care, support staff and save lives,’ according to the Department of Health and Social Care.
It forms part of the £250 million funding commitment announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last August, aimed at boosting AI in the health service.
The new competition is aimed at companies that will allow the NHS to ‘adopt and test technologies’ that already have regulatory approval, as well as those projects that are developed in line with the NHS long-term plan.
Launching the competition, health secretary Matt Hancock described the ‘agenda’ as being ‘about people’ rather than technology.
He said: ‘The best kind of tech is the technology you barely notice because it just works.’
Hancock added: ‘Giving clinicians back the gift of time and allowing them to care – that’s what we’re aiming for, it’s what clinicians are crying out for, it’s what patients expect and it’s what will bring our NHS into the 21st century.’