'Our health care is at its greatest point of crisis'

Lancashire GP Dr David Wrigley is a senior member of the British Medical Association. In a personal view, he outlines the crisis health and social care confronting doctors' surgeries and hospitals
Dr David WrigleyDr David Wrigley
Dr David Wrigley

Doctors are desperate. They have never known such times when they are asked to do more and more for their patients and given less and less resources.

The NHS as a whole has seen unprecedented cuts to its budget. Hidden as ‘efficiency savings’, more than £20bn of annual funding we should have had available for patient care has been stripped away. This is all in the name of austerity and our politicians have made a decision to restrict funding to the NHS.

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This is despite the fact that we are the sixth richest country in the world and can afford tax cuts for the richest and tens of billions of pounds for a new rail connection to get you from London to Birmingham 15 minutes quicker.

Every week we see GP surgeries closing due to lack of funding, the inability to recruit new GPs and senior GPs just walking away due to the sheer pressure of the workload. It was unimaginable 10 years ago that we would see GP surgeries closing down.

Other surgeries nearby get those thousands of patients moved on to their list by NHS England exacerbating the workload problem further (because everyone has a right to be registered with a GP). All this is making many GPs unwell and some are suffering serious mental illness due to the pressures involved. Looking after more than 2,000 patients is quite the norm now for a GP and this involves huge pressures and mountains of paperwork and admin.

Doctors are now working in unsafe environments with no time to think or spend the time they need with patients. It is not safe when GPs have to deal with more than 70 patients in one day with no time to stop, think and reflect on the decisions you have made.

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I have got to 10pm in the evening sometimes having not stopped since 8am. No one I know wants to be treated by a tired doctor.

Many patients have six to eight complex diagnoses and are taking more than 20 different medications. Razor sharp concentration is needed each and every minute of the day when decisions can have serious implications for our patients. General practice funding has fallen from around 12 per cent of the whole NHS budget down to around seven per cent now. We have to deal with a government hell bent on pushing through ‘seven day working’ when we can’t even provide a safe five day service.

But we haven’t stood by and said nothing as this car crash unfolds slowly before us. For years doctors have been telling politicians and senior NHS managers that the system is grossly underfunded and understaffed. It usually falls on deaf ears and we are told we are ‘crying wolf’.

Every now and again politicians will announce some extra funding and use their powerful media machine to explain this will solve the NHS woes. But how wrong they are. You only need to speak to a working doctor on the frontline to know our politicians have failed to protect our NHS.

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Pictures of elderly patients in pain on hospital corridor trolleys, waiting lists for surgery growing week by week and longer and longer waiting times to see a GP are ALL due to the failings of our politicians.

The vast majority of the national newspapers support the government and will pump out headlines and misinformation to support their political friends misguided policies. On a depressingly regular basis we see front page headlines blaming the NHS staff for longer waiting times or substandard care and our morale plummets even further when all we want is the resources to do our jobs properly.

Every day our hospitals in Lancashire struggle to cope. They have seen their bed numbers fall and we now have one of the lowest number of beds per head of population in Europe. Due the collapse of social care, patients are stuck in hospital with nowhere to go when all they need is some additional care and support before going back to their own home. That additional help has been stripped away by the actions of our politicians. I struggle to admit my very unwell patients because every hospital ward is full.

North West Ambulance Service has seen its funding cut and struggles to reach blue light emergencies. There is no slack in the system. We see patients blamed for going to A&E but often this is a last resort for some who have tried and failed to get help elsewhere in a failing NHS. I know see my patients struggle to receive even the most basic of care at home. Just being helped out of bed to have a wash, a change of clothes and be helped to make a meal now seems beyond the realms of possibility for society. How can we have got to the stage in 2017 when the elderly, ill and vulnerable are left for days on end with no support or help when no one else is able to give them a hand.

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Surely it is the sign of a civilised society that we look after the elderly in their time of need.

Social care is provided by our county councils and once again, in the name of austerity, they have seen their budgets slashed by central government over the past seven years. Left with agonising decisions over what to fund, our elected councillors have had to cut social care thus leaving many patients alone.

We should direct our anger and frustration towards those who have brought this about – our elected Westminster politicians. Write to your MP and demand some answers.

Please be sympathetic and understanding of NHS staff, many of whom are at the end of their tether and fear going to work each day because they cannot do the job they spent many years training for.

David Wrigley works as a GP in Carnforth, Lancashire and is Deputy Chair of the BMA Views expressed are his own.