The Suffering of the NHS

As I said in my previous post on the shortage of beds in NHS hospitals, it is no secret that our healthcare system is struggling, and with the winter fast approaching, it seems that the situation is only going to worsen. Despite the Department of Health insisting that “the NHS has prepared for winter more this year than ever before”, hospital chiefs are still warning that the worst is yet to come, and are calling for an extra £200-350 million of funding to be made immediately available. This is necessary, they say, to pay for extra staff and beds to cover the expected strain on the NHS over the winter.

In addition to this, Professor Ted Baker, the recently appointed new chief inspector of hospitals in England has stated that the NHS is not fit for 21st Century England. He pointed out that there has been a major shift in the population structure of the country since the 1960s and 70s, yet the same model of care is still being implemented over 50 years later. Almost ironically, despite being founded on a profession which is constantly evolving, the NHS itself has failed to change and adapt to keep up with the rest of the country. Prof Baker believes that the initial mistake was a lack of historical investment; money was coming in 15-20 years ago, but it was not spent on the right things, such as transformation of the model of care.

With concerns about both the short term and long term future of the NHS, Prof Baker has said “capacity is being squeezed all the time […] there comes a point at which the capacity isn’t there”. NHS Providers have agreed that without an emergency cash bailout, the NHS is going to face the worst winter in its history.

As an aspiring doctor, I find it very worrying that the NHS is in decline; it has been considered by many to be the greatest healthcare system in the world, offering healthcare to all, free at the point of delivery, yet it seems like this may not be the case for much longer. Sadly, privatisation and charging for treatment may become much more common in the future, although this is likely to only result in greater fragmentation of the service.

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Super malaria

It has recently been announced that the world is now facing a threat from the so-called ‘super malaria’ bug – a strain of malaria which is resistant to the main drug – artemisinin – used to treat malaria. Concerns are not only being raised because of the high resistance of the strain, but also as a result of the speed with which ‘super malaria’ has spread; it initially emerged in Cambodia, but has since spread to southern Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. If a new treatment is not quickly discovered, all forms of malaria could soon become resistant to artemisinin, which could have catastrophic effects, especially in Africa, where 92% of all malaria cases occur.

Currently, over 210 million are infected with malaria each year, but experts are concerned that with malaria potentially soon to become untreatable, the 770 000 people that die annually from malaria may well rise to millions of people. For the moment, all that can be done is to ensure that all areas where malaria has been eradicated remain this way, to prevent the spread of the ‘super malaria’ any further.

This is one example of the much greater problem of superbugs, commonly caused by the unnecessary, improper or overuse of antibiotics to treat illnesses – when a course of antibiotics is prescribed when it is not needed, or when the course of antibiotics is not finished, this allows for bacteria with resistant mutations to survive and reproduce. This then means resistant genes are passed on to future generations of bacteria, and consequently, the bacteria cause more problems, as they continue to infect people, but there is no longer an effective treatment.

At the moment, it seems there is not much that can be done to prevent the spread of ‘super malaria’, except contain it in as small an area as possible, and hope that an effective treatment is soon discovered.

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Supermarket health checks

Over 200,000 people suffer a heart attack each year in the UK, but with new proposed health checks, at least 9,000 heart attacks may be prevented. NHS England and Public Health England are encouraging crucial health checks to be carried out in supermarkets, football stadiums and by firefighters doing home checks, as it is believed that only half of those eligible for regular health checks end up having them.

These checks look out for signs such as high blood cholesterol levels or abnormal blood pressure which may be indicative of a more serious underlying health problem; most commonly cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, as part of an initiative to prevent thousands of unnecessary deaths caused by stokes, heart attacks and coronary artery disease, NHS is asking local authorities to step up and carry out simple health checks out in public, as opposed to the more traditional GP practice. Already, in Cheshire, firefighters have received funding to promote the idea of getting these checks done, and referring people onto services which can help should there be cause for medical concern.

Personally, I believe these checks to be a fantastic idea; I think that, often, people get caught out by their health because they simply don’t entertain the idea that they could be at risk of high blood pressure (for example). By encouraging health checks to be performed in places where the majority of the general public will likely come across in their day-to-day lives, not only could it help prevent many people from suffering illnesses and even fatalities, but also raise awareness, potentially causing people to rethink their lifestyles and perhaps trying to be more active or eat healthily.

Thanks for reading!