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Opinion: Our health service is in dire straits and staff are on their knees

An incident this week involving my mother has highlighted the dire straits our local health service is in.

It’s not the emergency staff – they are clearly practically on their knees – but despite that they serve an ever-more demanding public with unswerving kindness, care and dignity.

But it is clear from what happened to my mum, there is a very real and present danger to our health service and ironically it is in the very constituency of our current Health Secretary Steve Barclay – he of the party that pledges to “protect” our NHS.

Peterborough City Hospital.
Peterborough City Hospital.

Now I try not to get overly political, I like to tread an unbiased road in my reporting. But there are exceptions to every rule. And quite frankly if his party is “protecting” the NHS – we are are currently doomed.

I don’t like airing my family’s problems in public but what happened to my 82-year-old mum is a clear illustration of all that is wrong with the NHS.

As I said, it is not the staff, who clearly are doing their best under extremely trying, very under-funded and under-resourced circumstances, and in an environment where they are feeling financially undervalued.

Steve Barclay is not only MP but he is the current Secretary for Health.
Steve Barclay is not only MP but he is the current Secretary for Health.

My mum collapsed at home as we sat having a chat about her day.

For what seemed like an eternity she was unconscious on the floor, with a very obviously broken ankle. As anyone would - I dialled 999.

The operator informed me, that despite being a “high priority”, I could expect a wait of at least an hour for an ambulance.

What? I thought I must have misheard, no that was in fact the timescale given – remember this is an 82-year-old woman, with a severely broken limb, lying semi-conscious on the floor. The time around 7pm.

In the end the ambulance actually arrived within 45-50 minutes and the paramedics were simply amazing.

They comforted my mum before getting her into the ambulance to head off to hospital. Before they left I asked about the predicted hour-long wait and was told I was “lucky” as it could have been so much longer (hours), but they had got a vehicle sooner than expected – again, what?

Mum arrives at Peterborough City Hospital. I arrive separately at the A&E main entrance to be greeted by what looked like an airport check-in queue.

The computers were down, demand was high and the beleaguered staff were having to book people in the old-fashioned way.

A kind security guard took pity on me and ushered me through to where my mum should be, and it was then I discovered she was still in the ambulance awaiting transfer – the time around 11pm – about four hours after this all began.

I sat with her as we waited – 37 minutes to be exact – before she was admitted. No wonder there are long waiting times for an ambulance. How can they be answering calls if they are parked up waiting to hand over patients? We were not alone as there were at least three other ambulances sat there.

Again I can’t fault the paramedics caring for my mum, they were everything you would want and more. But the problem was demand for beds, in what the hospital calls its Vanguard area intended to triage patients as they are brought in, far outstripping what was available.

From Vanguard patients having been assessed are moved to the accelerated zone – again demand was more than what was available – and while we sat there I witnessed one elderly patient needing an urgent CT scan having to wait because there was apparently just one porter on duty and he was being run ragged.

We sat in the accelerated zone for more than two hours – by this time it is 3.30am. My mum is in excruciating pain.

Eventually pressure from Vanguard is such that there is a kind of exodus of all patients from Accelerated to what they call Majors – Bedlam would be a more apt name.

Every bay was full. There were alarms sounding, patients groaning and throwing up, doctors, nurses and other staff flitting from bay to bay – some being faced with abuse from fed-up patients and I’m told the waiting room was still packed.

Once again I witnessed the caring and patient staff, clearly being over-stretched.

By 5.30am the doctor was telling me to go home, they would look after Mum and she would not be coming home until late afternoon at the earliest.

Worn out, perhaps a little shocked not just by what’s happened to mum, but from the cacophony in the main area of A&E, I leave, clearly expecting to hear within an hour or two of what was happening.

No call – I chased up the hospital at 2.10pm – and track mum down to the exact same A&E bay I left her in seven hours earlier. The doctors have not had time to deal with her and I feel guilty for having left her in such surroundings.

It was in fact 8.10pm that evening when she was finally admitted to a ward – she had been waiting for a bed for all that time.

From all that I witnessed – it is clear whatever the doctors and nurses are demanding in pay is not enough – they are working in conditions that would shame a third world country quite frankly. We are supposed to be world-leading, but when it comes to caring for our sick that is far from the case.

It is not the workers, it is the lack of resources, the lack of beds, the lack of enough qualified staff, it’s the lack of true understanding of how to fix our wonderful NHS.

Not so long ago we stood on doorsteps clapping for those doctors and nurses, and I applaud them now. I believe that if Mr Barclay was to spend one night in an A&E department with a member of his family, he might get a much better picture of just what years and years of underfunding, undervaluing and uncaring has done to what was once a beacon for the world.

I know my mum’s case is far from unique just from my observations on the night.

Something drastic needs to be done, firstly pay the staff what they deserve, that way they may at least stay and there may be enough of them to relieve some of the stress of the demand – and that is all staff from porters, to paramedics, to nurses, doctors and surgeons – if this government can stump up £42m for a pay rise for the King – then surely they can find cash enough for our medical heroes.

Provide more beds – we could build emergency hospitals in just months during the pandemic – so why not now? And, so Mr Barclay, make the motto “protect the NHS” a reality rather than an election sound-bite...

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