I woke up early enough this morning to see one of my former bosses, Dr Peter Carter, on BBC Breakfast TV. Considering it was 7.10am and he would probably have been at Twickenham yesterday evening he did remarkably well! He is now the CEO of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), and was on the programme to discuss their new initiative in support of mental health services in the UK. The full story can be found here on the BBC website. Briefly, the concern is that since the current government came to power in 2010 there has been a reduction of 3,300 mental health nurses in England, and a loss of 1,500 beds, against the backdrop of a 30% increase in demand over the same period. In effect, there are now 8% fewer mental health nurses than there were 4 years ago, although there are 10% more nurses in total.
I then turned to today’s paper, only to see that the lead story is about concern from the police that National Health Service (NHS) Ambulance Trusts may be relying on them to transport patients to hospital if an ambulance is unavailable or, in the case highlighted, if the service was apparently on shift changeover and had no one to staff an available ambulance. The full article is here on the Sunday Telegraph website. Clearly, in that particular case there were some very serious failings which need to be addressed and corrected. But underlying this, it appears that there are major systemic problems.
I worked in the NHS for more than 20 years, in a large Trust which is a significant provider of mental health services. Mental health has always been the poor relation within the NHS family, but it has at least had some additional funding for new services since the turn of the century – until the recent cuts took effect. The NHS is a hugely important service – those who moan about its failures ignore the fact that these are a very small part of the total caseload. But when was ‘NHS provides good service’ ever newsworthy?
Whilst there are some important management issues to be resolved in problem areas, these are not the cause of reductions in nursing levels and the range of mental health services. Funding, or lack of it, is as ever the underlying reason. The NHS will always be a political football, kicked around between the main parties. Our current – unelected – government has wasted huge amounts on yet another unnecessary reorganisation, no mention of which was made in either party’s manifesto. A maniacal Health Secretary has been replaced by a snake oil salesman. But nothing changes for the better. It will be the same at next year’s general election, worthless promises made and subsequently ignored. I must be getting cynical in my old age, but I wonder if this is really necessary. Is it too idealistic or naive to want all health services to be adequately funded? Or that those who run the country actually care about what they are doing?