Health

The Guardian view on the NHS: A brutal winter is coming | Editorial

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Ministers have no plan to deal with rising waiting times that are costing lives and forcing desperate patients to go private

Liz Truss took office claiming the NHS was a priority. Her new health secretary’s plan to right a listing ship is underwhelming. Patients, often elderly and infirm, are dying in ambulances outside emergency departments because hospital wards are full with the medically fit who cannot leave because of a lack of social care. Over the summer, Ms Truss had promised to shift £13bn of healthcare spending to social care, claiming this would help free up capacity in hospitals. [Politicians, it is said, campaign in poetry and govern in prose.] Ms Coffey proved this aphorism by claimingOn Thursday, Thérèse Coffey claimed £500m would “start” to solve the problem.

In fact, this could be a false start as it seems that the cash is coming from hospital budgets. The health service heads into winter with Covid spreading, an exhausted and demoralised workforce, severe staffing shortages and a broken social care system in desperate need of reform. In July, the cross-party health and social care committee said that the “persistent understaffing of the NHS now poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety, both for routine and emergency care”. It’s obvious that a properly funded workforce plan is required. The NHS has suffered for years from a lack of staff planning. In 2019, comparable European states had on average 3.7 doctors per 1,000 patients. Austria had 5.4. England had 2.9.

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