Cuts Watch #341: NHS already under pressure
Even before the cuts in real-terms funding that lie ahead, the NHS is already struggling. At the end of the year, NHS Direct was “strained to bursting point” as staff struggled to cope with their busiest day of the year. In hospital maternity units, staff shortages are compromising the safety of mothers and babies. Despite this, the Prime Minister has refused to confirm a promise to increase the number of midwives that he made in the run-up to the election.
Writing in yesterday’s Observer, Cathy Warwick (General Secretary of the Royal College of Midwives) described how extremely busy days, once an occasional problem, have become commonplace. The rising birthrate and the increasing number of complicated births have combined with staff shortages to create a stressed working environment that will undermine the safety of mothers and babies. The last government provided extra money for maternity services,
Welcome as that was, it was and still is not enough. Over the past decade, the birthrate has increased by 19%, yet midwife numbers have increased by just 12%, at least 3,500 short of the number needed to deliver a safe, high-quality service.
That is why midwives were very pleased when David Cameron promised last year that a Conservative government would add an extra 3,000 midwives. Ms Warwick says the RCM has submitted “persistent requests” for the government to deliver on this pledge, but they have not done so. The Guardian website reports comments backing Ms Warwick from Dr Tony Falconer, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and Jane Sandall, professor of midwifery and women’s health at King’s College London. The Guardian also reports that last month the Care Quality Commission found that 22% of mothers were left alone during labour and found that frightening.
Another indicator of the pressure the NHS is already facing came from UNISON, which reports that NHS Direct has been dealing with an ever rising number of calls. Karen Jennings, UNISON’s head of health, said that this is NHS Direct’s busiest time, when GP surgeries are often closed (or difficult to get to because of bad weather) but more people need advice because of worries about flu and falls on the snow and ice. NHS Direct has already a £20m cut this year, “putting extra pressure on the remaining staff who, nevertheless, have struggled through the snow to get into work and are working extra hours over the holiday to cover the expected peaks.”
And finally, the Mental Health Foundation the Institute of Psychiatry have written to social care minister Paul Burstow, to complain that the government has abandoned its predecessor’s commitment to increasing government expenditure on mental health research from 2 per cent to 11 per cent of the total health research spending. They argue that spending on mental health research would lead to savings in social care within three years. This reversal contrasts with “repeated” promises that mental health would be given parity with physical health.