County Councillor Karen Constantine: Seeing Red – Our NHS is ripping apart at the seams

Cllr Karen Constantine

Our NHS is a precious asset to us all. Our NHS staff, each and every one of them, always do their best, go the ‘extra mile,’ little wonder we stood on our doorsteps and vigorously clapped for them during the Covid lockdown. Who amongst us doesn’t feel they deserved a decent pay rise? Yet the Tory Government has dismally failed to put a decent pay award on the negotiating table. Nor are the Tories taking the workforce crisis seriously.

Our NHS workers stepped up for us, now, with industrial action being the last resort, it’s our turn to step up for them.

It’s no surprise to me that the Royal College of Nursing is balloting their 300,000 members on potential strike action for the first time in their 106 year history. I know that every member will give careful thought to the ballot. And no matter what the result and eventual outcome, each nurse will do their upmost to serve patients. But the sad truth is the cost of living crisis has utterly outstripped average nurse earnings. If they can’t afford to live on a nurse’s salary – how can we expect to be looked after when we are sick and need their expert care?

Likewise the Royal College of Midwives “whose members include over 50,000 midwives, student midwives and maternity support workers – is urging its members across Britain to vote in favour of strike action.” They also state, “no action would be taken that puts mothers and babies at risk, with safe services being maintained.”

It’s not unusual to hear of nursing and midwifery staff being so hard up that they are forced to use food banks, or are struggling to afford to pay workplace car parking charges. Safe parking is vital, especially for those undertaking unsocial hours shift work, and not forgetting those who routinely work over and above their contracted hours.

The Conservatives have let the caring professions down. They have taken for granted the hundreds of thousands of women (and men, but women predominant,) and their vocational ‘calling’ and honourable sense of duty. No one ever wants to strike – but when you can’t get the Government to listen, or to offer a decent acceptable wage settlement what else can you do?

Patient safety is being compromised.

Not only have wages dropped in real terms, but staff numbers are in a dreadful decline. Nurses are also taking action to protect patient care – as numbers are dropping alarmingly. Nurses are saying that they are worried about safety in wards and not coping meeting all their household costs. It can’t be right to spend years in university training to end up in employment that simply doesn’t afford a decent standard of living? Or to work on wards with unsafe staffing levels, or even, work in a GP surgery when demand for appointments outstrips supply, as is now so frequently the case, as GP numbers are also in decline.

It’s not just nurses and midwives that are resorting to industrial action. As we are warned by NHS England’s board that demand for GP appointments is at record levels and has outstripped capacity. Dr Farah Jameel, the BMA, British Medical Association’s England GP committee chair, said doctors are “desperate” to provide patients with the care they need. But he said: “We simply don’t have enough doctors.” The Conservatives have failed to remain on track to deliver the 6,000 additional GPs by 2024-25. Without radical action the GP crisis will continue to deepen, and people will continue to suffer.

The recruitment and retention of GPs in the last decade has been truly dreadful. A quarter of GP’s positions could be vacant in just 10 years time. The relationship between GPs and the government is also in a poor state. So much so, that the BMA are establishing a ‘strike fund,’ for the first time in their history. They plan to ballot in January. We all hope that this industrial action is avoided.

However, GP practices currently face the ‘very real prospect’ of having to close temporarily or permanently this winter among rising workload and staffing issues, GP leaders have warned.

“There is currently a shortage of around 4,200 full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs, which is projected to rise to around 8,900 FTE GPs in 2030/31, relative to the number needed to meet the rising need for care. This means that without a change to current workforce trends and policies, close to 1 in 4 of the 37,800 general practitioner posts needed to deliver pre-pandemic standards of care would be vacant. However, if an increasing number of GPs leave the profession due to burnout and if newer roles are not successfully integrated in multidisciplinary general practice teams, the projected shortfall could increase to 18,900 FTE GPs, or around half of posts being vacant, in 2030/31.”

The situation in Kent.

We need more GPs and surgeries right across Kent. The patient demand is there, but appointments in every area are often hard to get. So, four more surgeries in Kent (not in Thanet) are welcome, but fall very short of meeting the true needs of Kent residents. The only way this situation can be improved is by training many more GPs (and other NHS staff,) as fast as we can. That is really the only way we can create more appointments. More appointments mean patients are both seen and referred to specialists quickly. This prevents conditions worsening. Seeing a GP is often vital for accurate diagnosis.

Little wonder that so many health unions covering millions of NHS workers are challenging the Government, “It’s now up to the government to avoid strikes in NHS by putting pay right,” say UNISON as they prepare to ballot over 400,000 members working across the NHS.

Health care impacts us all.

From pre-birth to death, we all depend on good primary healthcare service, and we are quite right to feel we should be able to depend on it. It has been the bedrock of our society for as long as most of us can remember. It is the gateway to almost all other care. Vitally important if you’re suffering from a more serious condition requiring investigation and treatment.

The NHS in general, including General Practice, has been significantly run down. The numbers of GPs per head of population is in decline. Many GPs entering the profession do so knowing they can only cope with the high pressured and stressful role on a part time basis, and as many more women are GP’s, to better combine caring responsibilities.

Closer to home the situation at QEQM is extremely concerning.

Setting aside the difficulties getting GP appointments and dental care, the difficulties I’ve highlighted here may seem abstract – but here is what’s happening closer to home at QEQM. And please bear in mind we aren’t at ‘winter pressure’ stage yet. So Covid, flu, and other factors could make matters quickly very much worse than they currently are.

Currently at QEQM there are 94 vacancies. That means we are 94 people short on our wards, in our A&E, and right across the hospital. I’m hearing that one of the reasons for the shortage of staff is the fact the Brighton Hospital is in the fortunate position of being able to offer three to four times the current going rate of pay. How on earth can QEQM compete with that? Especially during this cost of living crisis? Where are our local Tory MPs? Why aren’t they lobbying for more funding for the local hospital to address this precise issue?

What this means in practice is that patients are not being discharged quickly enough and that’s not only bad for them it’s also bad for the NHS.

I’m hearing of wards covered with only one qualified and one unqualified member of staff, and beds waiting for discharge range from 150 patients waiting to currently 30. Those patients are finding themselves crammed in spaces near to emergency exits and nursing stations but importantly, they are sometimes left without access to suction, oxygen, and emergency call bells. This escalates the risk of emergency! That can’t be right?

I’m hearing that QEQM is so aware of how long patients will be waiting that they are putting inflatable air mattresses on trolleys to prevent patients becoming uncomfortable.

Other hospitals in East Kent are also struggling. I believe the William Harvey is on ‘divert’ frequently as it’s often on OPEL 4 rating – meaning it’s unsafe to receive more patients. And that they have reduced the numbers of staff in theatres from 4 to 3, meaning there’s one less qualified person in attendance.

What a mess. I’m going to be seeking answers at both the HOSC the Kent wide health overview and scrutiny committee, and from our local hospital bosses!

We’re told backlogs are due to Covid – no way!

Even before Covid-19, demand for NHS healthcare was far outstripping supply: there were 4.4 million people on waiting lists in England in early 2020. But the pandemic made things much worse: about 2.4 million NHS operations were cancelled in England and Wales in 2021. GP appointments were greatly restricted. There are now 6.6 million people – over a tenth of the population – waiting for treatment. Around 332,000 have been waiting over a year – 13 times the comparable number from May 2020.

Of course it suits the Conservatives to say the current crisis is due to covid. But that’s simply not the case.

At the next General Election, remember the Conservative Government has failed to look after our NHS well enough to look after us. Support all our NHS staff.


    • What if it real though? Surely, regardless of who the author is or supports, maybe some fact checking would help first.

      I know many nurses and this seems a pretty accurate and damning account of what is happening.

      Maybe speak to nurses at QEQM before rubbishing. If true, our nurses answer NHS need support.

      Over a hundred years since its inception and it’s the first time the Royal College of nursing are balloting for industrial action.

      Surely we owe it to the NHS and their staff to maybe look into this rather than dismiss it

    • Yes Andrew, its electioneering, and I am all for it! The Tory’s have run the NHS into the ground, and millions are suffering as a result! I have a neighbour of working age, who waited 5 painful years for a hip replacement! Now he is back at work! Johnson had his life saved by hardworking NHS staff, and he thanked them by cutting their wages! Vote the Tory’s out next election!

    • A politician using a newspaper column to promote their parties views? I’m shocked I tell you. Good job Makinley and Gale never do that.

  1. the tories obviously want the nhs privatised , then it will be run by thier rich and powerful anonymous friends , and we will pay them heavily for the priviledge – god help us

  2. It’s always been the same, pat people in the NHS on the back and praise them ,what a good job you are doing, but when they ask for more money the answer is NO ,Why not everyone on the ground floor day in day out caring for us ,give them what they are worth and the equipment to do the job with, the NHS isn’t there to make a profit, its there to care for people, stop paying the big boys
    in the NHS the silly wages and put it back into the NHS .

  3. Andrew C + Harry Webb you need to get some perspective.The trouble with the NHS is short termist accountancy and not enough prescience and accountability.If you are ill, believe me the NHS is an asset.I do hope you won’t fall sick.
    As someone who has a close relative as a GP,I can tell you the situation is far worse than Karen is stating.
    If this is just electioneering answer me this:
    Can you get a GP appointment quickly?
    Can you get an elective operation in under 3 months?
    Are elderly patients that could otherwise be cared for elsewhere occupying precious beds.
    Don’t you think that health workers of whatever kind deserve a fair rate for the job.
    If you can answer any of these questions honestly, then you must agree that the NHS is facing a crisis, yet another one.
    Sure money could be spent more wisely,but the stop go funding of the NHS is the problem.
    If we want Swedish or German style health care, then we need to stump up Swedish + German levels of finance.
    If you believe in fairies, then there is a magical forest of money trees out there, that will pay for everything without you having to contribute towards the NHS.
    No one likes paying tax, but as adults we know fables and fairies are just things to comfort little children,not a way of financing a budget.

    • Even during the 1980’s all GP did regular house calls. They were always available. Ask your “relative” why they aren’t today?
      The NHS has bled UK plc dry for 4 decades. All of the he while people’s willingness to act sensibly, expect only proportionate and reasonable outcomes and do their best not to be a burden on their fellows has evaporated. Xi Jinping was correct in saying that the West has a “… sense of entitlement…” Our new King has also made similar comments.
      I’d like to see the health services in general dismantled. Both public and private.

        • Easy, you turn up at the nhs, get weighed and height measured, BMI over 27 you go to the big queue, under you go to the little queue. Both sides of the nhs are funded on the same per patient basis. But as the overweight are more expensive to treat and tend to be in hospital longer , the through put is slower than the other side of the nhs. The morbidly obese requiring a knee or hip that are in for a month means that that bed only does 12 hips a year, on the slimmer side, they’re in for 3-4 days and a that bed does 100 a year. People would soon learn, if they don’t then at least those that make an effort aren’t suffering longer than they have to.
          Cue the whining.

  4. Pity you did not fight harder to save an important bus route in Thanet number 33 which so many people with mobility issues relied on!!!!!!

    • Karen Constantine did support the bus campaign and attended the demonstration at the Westwood Bus Depot with other elected representatives. As this was a Stagecoach decision the options for KCC councillors were limited as KCC has stated, backed up by Craig Mackinlay MP, that there was no money to subsidise the routes here.

  5. Our NHS staff, each and every one of them, always do their best, go the ‘extra mile,’ Really? Cannot even get a phone appointment with my doctor for the last two & a half years, let alone an in surgery one & most seem to have the same issue all over the country.

    They have continued to hide away on full pay, despite the promise of seeing people once most had been jabbed-for which these doctors were paid between 15-30 quid per jab on top of their wages-some must be millionaires by now. They weren’t scared to inject them when they were ‘unprotected’ but then even being jabbed they were too dangerous to see-despite the NHS hospitals giving around 4/10 people Covid-many of whom went in with other health problems, due to their incompetence.

    Let us not forget this wonderful service people started clapping for just before Covid were being booed for the dead babies in the East Kent Trust area-which was suddenly forgotten, as was the infecting people in hospital due to sticking the elderly especially on Covid wards-even if they didn’t have it & this continues to happen, the entire NHS shutting down for years-leading to deaths, suicides etc & most recently many people’s cancer treatments & operations they have been waiting(many years in pain) for were cancelled so staff could ‘pay tribute’ to a dead 96 year old & some march in front of her coffin procession. Again, just shows who is important & it isn’t the plebs the NHS is supposed to be serving.

    Might as well call it the No Help Service or The National Death service. FOund it amusing & sad in the earlier story about health services being set up in the foodbank, sums it all up really-the taxes you pay are a waste of time, because the NHS has been shut for business since early 2020 & will clearly carry on being closed-probably forever now & you have to get help elsewhere, who will do the job your doctor is paid to do, but refuses to. Still clapping like mindless sheep?

    • What really annoys me are all those Doctors who claimed/claim it is”unsafe” to see patients in person, working at vaccination hubs (for extra pay of course!). Whatever one’s feelings over Covid vaccinations, it is obviously only “unsafe” when it suits them. Meanwhile, Opticians have been open since Autumn 2000.

      • Yep, doctors were dissatisfied prior to Covid & worked out they could do internet consultations/diagnosis at home/in surgery, not see anybody & get paid the same & that they had the government over a barrel to deliver the jabs at a premium price.

        They love the last 30 months or so of how it has gone & who can blame them? Sadly while it suits them perfectly, it doesn’t help their patients they are supposed to be helping-people pay taxes for the NHS-it isn’t free & the whole purpose is it is supposed to be there for people, which it hasn’t been since early 2020.

  6. Those of you having such a poor cure of the NHS have options: pay for private treatment.
    Soon, this won’t be an option. There won’t be an NHS.
    Tough, if you’re poor. Tough, if you’ve got a chronic disease. Wonderful if you run a medical insurance company.

    • If people cannot get treatment/operations, like they haven’t for years now then what is the difference? There is now a ridiculous backlist thanks to the pandemic stupidity & a few weeks back they cancelled operations & cancer treatments many have been waiting years for, because of the Queen. They sure as hell aren’t serving the public since 2020, only themselves.

  7. I will never vote Tory in a million years! But lets not pretend that all was okay under Labour! It most definitely was not! The biigest problem the NHS faces is politicians they are the disease that is destroying the NHS. Sadly we are politically bankrupt in this country. When you are in opposition its easy to come out with all the answers. I have the greatest respect for nurses but should they go on strike no they should not, because who are they hurting? Politicians the super rich? most definitely not, just ordinary people, but hey isn’t that the norm now!

  8. These are long term problems, coming about largely through the ‘austerity’ (for most of us) over the last 12 years – the solutions will be long term too. No amount of money will train a doctor or a nurse in 12 months and it is wholly unethical (and possibly unsafe) to poach doctors and nurses from under developed countries.
    Jeremy Hunt was the architect of this failure yet he now sitting on the sidelines preaching about the need for long term planning and training more staff – doing what politicians do best!

  9. The NHS is on its knees – quite deliberately!
    Services at the QEQM and EKHUT are bordering on broken.
    Watch this video.

  10. ‘The NHS is as safe as a hamster with a hungry snake.’Who said this? Yes, John Major former Tory PM about the current lot masquerading as Conservatives.

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