Are hospitals on the brink of collapse?
This month’s topical health story from our features editor Sally Smith.
Prepare yourself for a collapsing NHS
Let’s face it - as we get older, we need more health care. However fit, however well we eat and exercise, our bodies are changing and inevitably there will come a time when something will go wrong.
For many who have worked hard all their lives, who made sure they paid all their contributions and put off visiting their local doctor apart from when it was really necessary, it can be a shock to find that when they really need health care, there are delays, poor quality care and restrictions on the best medication.
Some people are saying that the Government is not unduly worried about the problems as they are hoping it will cause more and more people to “go private” and reduce the pressure on the creaking National Health Service.
And creaking it is. According to the Royal College of Physicians, there are a third fewer hospital beds available now than 25 years ago, yet there is an increase in emergency admissions. More importantly, nearly two thirds of people admitted to hospital are now over 65. Many have dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, people with dementia occupy a quarter of our hospital beds.
No wonder the pressure on this once heralded system is reaching breaking point. Every week there are stories of elderly patients being moved from bed to bed, being kept on beds in corridors, being discharged in the middle of the night because their bed is needed for an emergency.
At our age, we were brought up in the era of “the wonder of the NHS”. We were constantly assured how lucky we were to live in Britain where we had the benefits of this amazing service, compared with other countries. We could even feel smug that we lived in such an enlightened country.
But my goodness times have changed and it is important that people of our age realise this. Today, our NHS is no longer the envy of the world - no other country has taken it up - and many say it is now bankrupting the country.
If there is any doubt that the “bad news” stories about our NHS are simply politically motivated scaremongering, then look at the latest report from the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, where around 1,200 mostly elderly patients died between 2005 and 2009 mainly due to poor care. Not to medical conditions but to inadequate care. And this Foundation is not alone.
No one can dispute the ideal of free top quality health care for everyone. But thanks to dramatic advances in treatments, pressure of finances and a massive rise in population, the original concept is simply no longer tenable.
It is worth looking at other systems such as in Australia, Germany and Japan.
In Japan for instance, they have the longest life expectancy at birth in the world, and their health system is very interesting.
They provide healthcare services on the basis of the patient paying 30% of costs and the government paying the remaining 70%. Cover for the personal payments can be obtained through a universal health care insurance system with fees that are set by a government committee, to ensure there is equal access of everyone. Patients are free to select their own doctors or facilities of choice and the hospitals have to be run as non-profit organisations managed by physicians.
Providing health care for our generation is going to be an enormous challenge for the UK government. It is important that people of our age seriously look at the options and what is going on.
Private health care is becoming more affordable but it takes a lot of time to investigate the different types of cover available. The NHS system has changed entirely from when we were kids and in many cases patients today are given more choice, for instance we may be able to choose the best hospital to go to for a specific treatment.
All this means we need to be informed BEFORE we get sick because we may have to make some major decisions quickly.
A good place to start is with your right under the NHS Constitution
Know what to expect and what is available before you become sick, and keep informed of all the changes that will inevitably occur during the coming years. However much you fight it, one of these days you will become a patient. A bit of research now might make all the difference.
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