Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of NHS England, says that the current NHS is “not fit for the future”.
In a recent interview with the Guardian newspaper, Keogh expressed his concerns about the current state of the NHS, and how an ageing population is already starting to place far more strain on the service than it can handle. He suggested a number of changes, including treating patients in a way that places less reliance on hospitals; this would be achieved by shifting a large amount of resources into GP surgeries as a more cost-effective way to deal with increasing demand. One of the most concerning comments he made was that, unless substantial changes are quickly made, taxpayer funding alone might not be enough to cover the spiralling costs of the NHS.
“If not, we will get to a place where the NHS becomes unaffordable and we will have to make some very difficult decisions which will get to the very heart of the principle of the NHS and its values. This will open up a whole series of discussions about whether the NHS is fit for purpose, whether it’s affordable, and whether the compact with the citizen of free healthcare for all is sustainable in the longer term.”
Keogh added that patients are suffering due to the “fragmented” nature of the NHS, meaning they are often “pushed” between different departments, suggesting that making the process more streamlined would benefit both the NHS and its patients: “Too many patients find the NHS fragmented (and) confusing. They find that they get pushed from pillar to post; they feel like a ball in a pinball machine at times.”
Despite these comments, and multiple reports of the NHS being in ‘crisis’, including an A&E consultant’s open letter to David Cameron earlier this month and recent figures showing that A&E waiting times are at their worst since 2004, Keogh was adamant that the NHS was not in a crisis. “Everybody that’s working out there in the NHS knows that they’re under a lot of pressure at the moment. They don’t like the term ‘crisis’ being applied willy-nilly… It’s an evocative term which is also provocative and is used too freely for the wrong reasons. It’s a period of unprecedented pressure, of undue pressure. But the NHS is facing very difficult times, yes. The word ‘crisis’ implies that you can’t deal with it.”
Regardless of whether we call this a crisis or describe the current situation in a different way, what matters most now is that immediate, decisive action is taken to reduce the strain on the NHS. As time goes on, the situation will only become more serious.