A senior medic has warned the NHS remains under “considerable strain” which continues to be “masked by the Brexit smokescreen”.
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said he had raised concerns about the effect of political distraction on hard-pressed hospitals last autumn – and his fears had played out.
“This has been and continues to be an extremely challenging time for urgent care in the NHS which has been overlooked amid the chaos of Brexit and the smokescreen it has created,” he said.
“We have seen more people attending our hospitals as emergencies than ever before with month-on-month the worst performances recorded when measuring against the four-hour emergency access target.
“Although winter officially ‘finished’ on the 3 March when the NHS stopped publishing data on weekly pressures, it is still very much ongoing in our units which are under considerable strain.”
In February, hospitals in England only managed to see 84.2 per cent of A&E patients within four hours – the lowest figure recorded.
Dr Scriven said this was against a backdrop of uncertainties around the future of the four-hour target and the NHS workforce review which has been delayed until the autumn.
“The big issues are why so many people are needing our help and how much longer can the system cope with the stresses and strains of keeping these people safe while maintaining the wellbeing of staff performing now daily miracles.
“Major issues remain in community care, there is a staffing crisis and trusts are being asked to care for more patients with worsening conditions – yet the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England have been relentless in their positivity.
“These messages are divorced from the reality of everyday workers and the secretary of state has made an ever-increasing number of ill-judged and ill-informed comments which have done little to suggest he has the capability to improve the situation.”
Dr Scriven said clinicians and medical groups were “growing increasingly frustrated” at the health secretary’s “obsession with technology” and “disinterest” in the problems on the frontline.
“While staff have been run-ragged keeping services running under intense pressure, Mr Hancock has been making ill-informed comments about everything other than the key issues.
“He has a seemingly unfailing belief that technology is the answer to everything despite most hospital units running on IT systems that would have been considered outdated by the private sector many years ago.
“There is a general – and worrying – feeling among healthcare workers that he has managed the barely credible feet of making his predecessor in the role look knowledgeable.”
Dr Scriven said it had been made clear there was “no hope” of major issues facing the NHS being discussed or addressed until the resolution of Brexit, so urged the government to listen to the frontline.
“The health secretary’s lack of engagement with medical groups and hospitals over daily pressures impacting services is shocking.
“We as a society do not only ask to meet with those in senior leadership positions for the sake of saying we have met but because we want to work with them on trying to solve the underlying issues facing urgent medical care.”