DOCTORS and other health workers have delivered a damning indictment of the condition of the NHS as it approaches its 70th birthday.

Invited by The Press to give the NHS a 70th birthday health check, they warned that it is stretched to breaking point because of:

  • lack of funding
  • over regulation
  • an unwieldy purchaser/ provider split
  • poor staff training and retention
  • chronic lack of investment in buildings and equipment
  • growing demand because of an ageing population
  • private-sector contractors
  • a ticking time-bomb over the cost of medical negligence cases which threatens to swallow the entire health budget

York GP Dr David Fair of the Jorvik Gillygate practice said: “It (the NHS) is close to dying because of the failure of successive governments to invest in infrastructure such as buildings, IT systems and staff training. Staff are demoralised ... buildings are frequently outdated and dirty. IT systems are laughably obsolete if they exist at all. We depend on foreign NHS staff because we have failed abysmally to train and retain staff in the UK.”

The purchaser-provider split, introduced in 1992 in a bid to make the NHS more efficient, had failed because politicians did not understand that ‘you cannot measure the success of a service the same way you measure the success of a retail park’ Dr Fair added. There was still massive waste in the health service, partly because ‘most subcontractors and pharmaceutical companies see the NHS as an easy target’.

Retired Bootham Park Hospital consultant psychiatrist Dr Bob Adams added that years of underfunding and ‘misguided attempts at re-organisation’ had left the NHS at breaking point.

“The proportion of GNP spent on health services in the UK is now one of the lowest in Europe,” he said. “But the problems are not only due to underfunding. Since the so-called ‘internal market’ was set up in the 1990s a huge bureaucracy was set up to administer it. This bleeds billions of pounds from front line services every year.”

Former midwife and NHS manager Anne Gledhill, now an acupuncturist and fertility coach, said: “The NHS is not in good health. It is insufficiently resourced for the 21st century and ...the post code lottery is a reality.”

According to the National Audit Office, clinical negligence claims cost the NHS £1.6 billion in 2016/17, Ms Gledhill added - and the legal costs for these claims was a further £487 million. The future cost of medical negligence claims threatened to swallow the entire NHS budget if trends continued, Dr Fair warned.

It is not all doom and gloom, however. Those who responded to The Press’ invitation to comment pointed to the professionalism and goodwill of ‘dedicated and caring’ NHS staff and to the ideal of free ‘cradle to the grave’ health care which made it still the envy of the world.

And while the NHS was in desperately poor health, it is not too late to save it. “The NHS is not like a person in the twilight of their years,” Dr Adams said. “It can be given a new injection of life, if only the prescription is right.”

The remedies suggested include:

  • abolishing the purchaser-provider split
  • putting an end to privatisation of the service
  • increasing funding, perhaps through a dedicated health tax
  • taking a longer-term approach to planning for the future, instead of politicians constantly interfering to a timetable decided by elections.

Responding, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the NHS and draw up a long-term plan for the future backed by £20 billion funding over five years, it’s time to unleash the power of technology so we can transform the lives of patients and staff in the future.

“Just this week we announced the new NHS App which will put patients firmly in the driving seat and revolutionise the way we access health.”