This article discusses the strain that the NHS is currently experiencing during the winter period, with a particular focus on St. George’s Hospital in South London. Nationwide, there is an A&E crisis and immense pressure on resources and healthcare workers. For the first time in its history, St. George’s has had to treat patients in corridors. This has followed a chaotic few months: elective heart surgeries have been halted since December, cancer and mental health assessments are taking much longer than they should and mental health patients are being treated in A&E for five days. Although they opened a new winter ward last year to try to combat the seasonal surge of patients, the ward has had to stay open for the whole year meaning there is no room for the surplus of patients this winter. Not only is there a huge strain on resources but there is also a massive physical and emotional strain on healthcare workers: 60 nurses have resigned from the department due to poor pay and stressful working conditions. MP Fleur Anderson who went to visit the hospital has expressed urgency in trying to combat these problems and has emphasised the need for along-term plan.
Impact on doctors and healthcare staff
Working in a high-pressure environment is something that is expected when training to be a healthcare worker. However, what do you think the impact of these working conditions is on healthcare staff? Both nurses and junior doctors have conducted strikes in the last few months, campaigning for the restoration of pay and better working conditions. How well can healthcare professionals treat patients if they are constantly overworked, underpaid, and understaffed? Why do you think the nurses at St. George’s resigned and how will this impact the care at the hospital?
Patient care and safety
The long waiting times in A&E departments as well as the lack of space and understaffing could risk patient care being compromised. Urgent cases could become increasingly urgent because of how long some patients must wait. On top of that, in some situations, the lack of a private space to be treated may also affect the quality of patient care and compromise confidentiality.
The long-term impact on theNHS
The NHS has been struggling with the long-term impacts of the pandemic and it has highlighted weaknesses and instability within the service. There needs to be systemic change and better working conditions for healthcare workers. If working conditions for doctors and nurses are not improved, the NHS may face more issues with understaffing, further increasing pressure on the NHS. Do you think the NHS can keep operating as a public healthcare service with these working conditions and increasing pressure?
Do you think these long A&E waiting times could increase inequalities in receiving healthcare? Think of those who work full-time jobs and are unable to get off from work, those who have children and cannot arrange childcare, or even those who do not speak English as their first language and may not be able to express the urgency of their issue. People may hesitate to seek help for their healthcare problems until their condition has severely deteriorated and not only is this detrimental to their health, but this may also exacerbate the pressure on the healthcare service even more as advanced care will be required.