An NHS surgeon who’s contributed to the Daily Sceptic before has sent us an email offering us his perspective on the current NHS ‘crisis’. It’s a reminder that even though the current pressure on the NHS cannot realistically be attributed to Covid hospital admissions – which remain at around 5% of the total – that doesn’t mean that the NHS isn’t under strain.
There are various debates about whether or not the NHS is under pressure with pundits rightly pointing out that the NHS is not under pressure due to Covid-related disease. I think at this stage this is an unhelpful diversion. The fact is there is a big problem and trying to disprove it by just looking at Covid is missing the bigger picture.
The NHS is under a lot of pressure due to processes unrelated to Covid workload. While hospitals are not yet full to the brim, the overall activity levels are higher than usual for certain regions (whether this is due to the catch-up effect, neglect, the iatrogenic effect of recent non-pharmaceutical or other interventions/measures, etc.). The main crisis is related to staffing. This labour shortage has been noted in many sectors of the economy, but the staffing crisis (mainly non-doctoral) in the NHS has been chronic and worsening for years. This year tipped the balance (psychological exhaustion, physical exhaustion, sickness absence, track and trace, etc.). In our region hospitals are routinely cancelling (relatively non-essential) surgery due to lack of staff required to either run operating theatres or wards/ancillary services. Hospitals are routinely running extra activity on Saturdays to try and catch up on cancer work. This is a weekly occurrence not limited to the place I work. Factor in the very long (self-created) waiting lists and the winter (which has not even started), and the crisis could become unmanageable.
I am pessimistic. Regardless of the Covid workload, the Government may use a real crisis in the NHS to justify more pointless non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccine passports (complete nonsense from a medical, ethical and social perspective) out of desperation, misconception, or both.