Dr Stevens, a verified A&E doctor, shares their experiences about working in an underfunded and understaffed NHS in this guest blog for DAUK
“I’m so very sorry for the long wait…”. These apologies are now the first words I express to my patients in the Emergency Department and I am always anxious to hear their response. If they voice understandable frustration, then I must dedicate precious minutes to further apologies and explanations, as I empathise with their warranted (albeit difficult-to-digest) negative feedback. In true British spirit however, I am invariably met with something along the lines of “oh that’s ok Doc, I know how busy you all are and I’ve really been ok here”. While these verbal exchanges offer some relief to both parties, they should not be the opening dialogue of a medical consultation and the situation certainly is not ok! Especially not in an Emergency Department where it is often a matter of life or limb to be seen and treated quickly.
Years of underfunding, understaffing and surging demand have now reached a breaking point and the sword of Damocles hangs over NHS staff and patients with an increasingly sarcopenic grip. Waiting times and suboptimal care are at an all-time-high, while staff morale and patient satisfaction are at all-time-low. Both patients and staff suffer every day and despite the alarming accounts and crisis calls from the frontline, the situation continues to deteriorate.
In the Emergency Department, corridor medicine has become the new normal, waiting times in the double-digit hours now represent the new standard of care and chaos reigns. These chaotic corridors are a morbid motorway of sirens, screams, sickness and sadness. As I survey the madness, I see my depleted colleagues; healthcare assistants undertaking vital observations and investigations on overwhelming hordes of patients, all the while coordinating a food and drink service for those who haven’t had anything in hours; nurses administering life-saving medications and infusions while desperately playing “bed jenga” in an attempt to create space and dignity for the dying; paramedics waiting hours to transfer patients into a hospital bed, while helplessly turning down their radios from dispatchers desperate for anyone free to attend the next cardiac arrest, seizure or major haemorrhage; and my senior medical colleagues valiantly extinguishing fire after fire from an empty tank, while their hands are tied behind their backs. It used to be patients that would burst into tears in hospital, now it’s usually the staff.
Sadly these stories are not unique to one department or hospital, they occur each day throughout the country. It is so very wrong and you don’t need a medical degree to diagnose it but year-after-year we are discredited and gaslighted with statistical spin and political puppetry. The situation is unsafe, unfair, unsustainable and frankly, unforgivable – people’s lives are literally on the line and we all deserve better! In a last ditch effort to engender real change, nurses, paramedics and junior doctors are now exploring industrial action. It’s not just about our wages; it’s about securing the necessary funding and commitment for a safe, effective and sustainable NHS, while raising awareness about the terrible conditions inside a once world-leading healthcare service.
I would urge all those on the other side of the table and in positions of influence over the NHS to step down from their ivory towers and spend just 24-hours in the trenches of A&E. Here they would be faced with the fallout from years of neglectful placebo pushing, while withholding the real medicine; more beds, more staff and more funding.
Many of my colleagues and I, see the government’s response to this as a proxy for their wider commitment to the NHS. If they continue to disengage, discredit and deny, then I fear that for swathes of staff this will not be a temporary walkout but a permanent one and the soul of the nation will suffer an untimely death.