This winter a number of hospitals have declared ‘major incidents’, including those in Gloucester and Cheltenham. Emergency departments in particular are exceptionally busy. Managers are calling in extra staff, postponing routine surgery and in some cases closing the doors to new patients altogether.
Nationally, A&E beds are unusually full at the moment. Since the end of last year, emergency departments have consistently been missing their target of seeing, treating, admitting or discharging 95% of patients within four hours. Our GPs and hospitals are always busiest at this time of year. This winter has been colder so far than last year, and there have been more cases of flu and norovirus around than usual.
But more people are seeking treatment in A&E than ever before. The number of people being admitted to emergency departments has increased by 10% in the last three years. Pressure on council budgets has decreased the amount of capacity in social services, and this has had a knock-on effect making it harder to discharge patients from hospital for rehabilitation elsewhere.
The Christian faith urges us to have a particular care for the most vulnerable members of our communities. As our society ages, the needs of the elderly will become an increasingly significant part of our healthcare system. We need to learn to put other people first, and this may mean not getting the treatment some of us think we need as immediately as we think we need it. We all pay for the NHS, but perhaps some of our demands are just becoming unrealistic. What would ‘loving your neighbour as yourself’ contribute to the current political debate about the future of the NHS?
The Revd John Paul Hoskins, Bishop’s Chaplain.