‘We’re in danger of singing “kumbaya” as the Titanic sinks’: NHS boss issues grim warning


The NHS is in danger of ‘singing “kumbaya” as the Titanic sinks, one hospital chief executive has claimed.

Milton Keynes University Hospital Foundation Trust boss Joe Harrison argued health leaders were ‘presiding over a failing NHS’. 

‘I’m really concerned about where we are at,’ he told a roundtable attended by trust executives from across the country. 

His comments come on the back of a damning report that warned the health service faces its biggest ever workforce crisis that poses a ‘serious risk to patient safety’.

The MP-led committee, led by Jeremy Hunt, claimed the Government has no credible strategy to improve the situation while demand grows.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has admitted  he is partly to blame for the NHS staffing crisis saying it is ‘too tempting’ for ministers to cut back on staff training when it’ll be a future Government’s problem 

‘Charge hospital patients £8 a day and make over-60s pay for their prescriptions’ suggests former NHS trust chairman

Patients should pay a fee of up to £8 for every day they are in hospital, a former health boss has suggested.

Professor Stephen Smith called on ministers to bring in charges to help cover the cost of expensive medical equipment.

The former chairman of the East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust also proposed that people aged 60 and over should start paying for prescriptions.

But critics said the proposals would end the foundations on which the health service has operated since it was set up in 1948.

Setting out his ideas in a new book, Professor Smith suggested patients pay between £4 and £8 up to a maximum of 28 days a year to help the struggling NHS.

The idea is modelled on Germany’s system where patients are charged €10 (£8.50) a night. 

Professor Smith said: ‘I think the public would be prepared to pay some additional charges. Means testing would ensure the poor were not affected unfairly.’

But he was accused of promoting ‘hare-brained ideas’ and ‘zombie policies’ by the co-chairman of campaign group Keep Our NHS Public.

 Dr John Puntis said: ‘Charging people to cover part of the cost of a hospital stay would be a fundamental departure from the founding principles of the NHS and show that the long-standing consensus on a tax-funded public service model of healthcare has been truly abandoned.’

The Health Service Journal, a trade publication for NHS leaders and senior managers, held a meeting with trust chief executives about the current state of the health service.

During the briefing, Mr Harrison said: ‘I think we’re in danger of all sitting around the campfire singing “kumbaya” as the Titanic sinks. 

‘We are presiding over a failing NHS. There’s no question about it.’

He added: ‘And if we carry on like this, people have every right to say, “what on earth are we spending £150bn on?”‘ 

Mr Harrison’s comments were echoed by other NHS leaders, who said that a lack of accountability over standards like A&E waiting times would undermine public faith in the health service. 

Health leaders have repeatedly said the workforce crisis is at the root of most problems within the service.  

Summing up the situation, the Health and Social Care committee said the NHS now faces the ‘greatest workforce crisis in their history’ with staff shortages creating a ‘serious risk to patient safety’

Frequent vacancies are leaving employees ‘disillusioned, overworked and at high risk of burnout’, the report warned.

Its findings, which also delved into the social care sector, should ‘shock ministers into action’.

Commenting on the release of the report today, Mr Hunt, the country’s longest-ever serving Health Secretary, told LBC’s Nick Ferrari, that he was partly to blame.

‘I have my share of responsibility,’ said Mr Hunt, who recently had to pull out of the Tory leadership contest due to a lack of support. 

Critics have accused Mr Hunt, who was in charge of health between 2012 and 2018, of glossing over his own workforce planning failings while sticking the boot into the current administration. 

In his comments in the actual report, he said: ‘We now face the greatest workforce crisis in history in the NHS and in social care with still no idea of the number of additional doctors, nurses and other professionals we actually need.

‘NHS professionals know there is no silver bullet to solve this problem but we should at least be giving them comfort that a plan is in place. 

‘This must be a top priority for the new Prime Minister.’

Hospitals in England are now short of 12,000 doctors and more than 50,000 nurses and midwives.

Projections say an extra 475,000 jobs will be needed in health and 490,000 more in social care, almost one million in total, by early next decade.

Of the projected shortfall, the report stated: ‘The Government has shown a marked reluctance to act decisively.

‘The workforce plan promised in the spring has not yet been published and will be a “framework” with no numbers, which we are told could potentially follow in yet another report later this year.’ 

Heart attack patients waited more than 50 minutes for an ambulance on average in England last month — nearly triple the NHS target. There were more than 300,000 category two callouts in June

Heart attack patients waited more than 50 minutes for an ambulance on average in England last month — nearly triple the NHS target. There were more than 300,000 category two callouts in June

Committee MPs added while some progress has been made towards a target of recruiting 50,000 nurses, the Government is set to miss the Tory manifesto pledge of 6,000 more GPs.

‘The persistent understaffing of the NHS now poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety both for routine and emergency care,’ they said. 

‘It also costs more as patients present later with more serious illness. But most depressing for many on the front line is the absence of any credible strategy to address it.’

The report said the NHS loses millions of full-time equivalent days to staff sickness caused by anxiety, stress and depression. 

‘The result is that many in an exhausted workforce are considering leaving – and if they do pressure will increase still further on their colleagues,’ it added.

Official NHS data shows anxiety, stress and depression are consistently the most common reasons for health staff to call in sick.

The latest data shows 482,500 full time equivalent days were lost to staff taking time off for mental health in February this year alone. 

A separate report by the committee’s panel of independent experts rated the Government’s progress to meet key commitments it has made on workforce as ‘inadequate’. 

MPs criticised the Government and NHS England for not setting out when safe staffing in maternity would be reached, a failure they said was ‘absolutely unacceptable’. 

Maternity safety in the UK has come under increasing focus this year following a landmark report into Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust which found 201 babies and nine mothers had died needlessly over two decades of poor care.

A similar investigation is currently underway at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust. 

Responding to the committee’s report  Danny Mortimer, of NHS Employers which represents workforce leaders, said high number of vacancies and an ‘exhausted’ workforce represent a great challenge.  

Patricia Marquis, of the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘That persistent understaffing in all care settings poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety should shock ministers into action.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the Government’s was growing the NHS workforce . 

‘We are growing the health and social care workforce, with over 4,000 more doctors, and 9,600 more nurses compared to last year, and over 1,400 more doctors in general practice compared to March 2019,’ they said.

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