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Opinion

We’re bringing back clapping for the NHS – but this time we’ll be Clapping For Action

We’ve decided to bring back the claps. But not as an apolitical show of support which can be co-opted disingenuously by the government. We’re clapping for action, writes Every Doctor founder Dr Julia Patterson.

The NHS is in its worst winter crisis on record; and lives are at risk daily.

I can’t say it more starkly than that. But because things have been bad for years, (NHS winter crises have become
annual and expected), and because of the impact of the pandemic, we’re tolerating this state of affairs more than we should.

Much of this crisis was preventable by our government; much of it has been created by their decisions. And we need to demand action immediately.

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So what’s happening? The latest NHS figures came out last week; I’ll share a few to illustrate the awful situation we’re all in. A&E stats are the worst ever since measurements began in 2004; in Nov 2021 only 61.89% of patients were seen and either discharged or admitted to hospital within the standard four-hour wait in Type 1 A&Es.

There are over six million patients on an NHS waiting list in England alone. Again in England, there are 94,000 NHS staff vacancies currently, and our care homes have over 105,000 staff vacancies currently. On top of this, hospitals are far too full, and struggling under the strain.

NHS hospitals are commonly told to aim for a bed occupancy rate of 85%. The closer the percentage gets to 100%, the less ability a hospital has to absorb additional pressure for beds at busier times. However, the total percentage of occupied beds, and the percentage of occupied general and acute hospital beds have not been below the “safe level” of 85% for the past 10 years over winter.

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So we have a situation of intense bed pressures, not enough staff, long waiting lists, and long waits for emergency care.

It’s dangerous, there’s no other word for it. A new report by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine ‘Crowding and its Consequences’ has found that at least 4,519 patients have died as a result of crowding and 12 hour stays in emergency departments in England in 2020-2021.

This terrifying situation hasn’t happened quickly, and it isn’t all related to the pandemic. The government have underfunded and understaffed the NHS for many years. Successive governments have cut hospital beds (the total number of NHS hospital beds in England has more than halved over the past 30 years), and the number of staff has shrunk. Despite repeated pledges from health ministers to grow the number of GPs, for example, we have 1,704 fewer
fully qualified full-time GPs today than there were in 2015.

Finally, and crucially, there has not been enough investment in the NHS since 2010. NHS Budgets rose by 1.4 per cent each year on average (adjusting for inflation) in the 10 years between 2009/10 to 2018/19, compared to the 3.7 per cent average rises since the NHS was established.

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We’re now seeing huge cracks emerge in the service at a terrifying time; as we enter into our second winter of the pandemic, with a new Covid-19 variant on the rise.

The current Covid-19 situation is alarming. As I write, we’ve had two days of record highs in terms of COVID-19 case numbers in the UK. Experts on the Independent SAGE committee are calling for additional restrictions to mitigate the spread of the virus, One thing’s for certain; as the case numbers spiral; the additional impact on our NHS will be significant.

I run Every Doctor UK, a campaigning organisation which exists to advocate for NHS staff and patients; and I speak to doctors every day. Doctors don’t tend to over-play things; we don’t like to sensationalise. But the realities on the frontline are terrifying, and I am deeply concerned for both NHS patients and the staff looking after them right now.

The resilience displayed by staff has been astounding, but they’re now exhausted, and are not being supported by this
government.

In fact, they are often scapegoated by politicians for problems they did not cause, both in the media and in the House of Commons.

And so, we’ve decided to bring back the claps. But not as an apolitical show of support which can be co-opted disingenuously by the government.

We’re clapping for action. We’re clapping at 8pm every Thursday evening to send a direct message to the government; we want them to meet with healthcare leaders to learn about how to maximise NHS efficiency in the next few months.

We’re clapping to demand that the government removes any budgetary limitations affecting the ability of NHS staff to deliver safe care. We’re clapping to show staff and patients that we have their backs; that we know they’re being let down by this government, and we demand better. We’re also asking our online network of over 350,000 people to contact their MPs, so that they can join us in demanding better from this government.

It’s not good enough. Lives are at risk, patients are in danger, staff are completely unsupported. Because of COVID-19, it’s not safe for us to convene and protest outside Number 10 at the moment. So we’re Clapping For Action instead, and we plan to make a lot of noise.

Dr Julia Grace Patterson, @JujuliaGrace, @EveryDoctorUK, everydoctor.org.uk

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