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How Brexit uncertainty is harming the NHS, and call for it to do better by older people

June 27, 2018 10:26 PM

Dr Wendy TaylorI have worked in the NHS for almost all my working life and I'm hugely proud of what the NHS achieves, Cllr Wendy Taylor who speaks on health and social care issues for the Liberal Democrats, told Newcastle City Council tonight.

As a doctor, I can't overstate how important it is to me to be able to offer my patients the best treatments available, without having to ask how much they can afford to pay. Yet as the motion says, the NHS is facing many difficulties including lack of funding, loss of staff and increasing debt. The impact of Jeremy Hunt's attack on junior doctors has been devastating, with over 50% of doctors not taking up a training post when they complete their basic training. Many are going to New Zealand or Australia, others are giving up medicine altogether. Of course many will come back to train as a GP or Consultant at a later time, but when I think of the enthusiasm and excitement of medical students when they apply to study medicine, it is so sad that much of this is lost once they qualify. And the loss of the bursaries for student nurses has been just as damaging.

One of the most important groups of EU migrants are those working in the NHS-doctors, nurses, midwives, radiographers and many other paramedical staff. It is no exaggeration to say that the NHS would be lost without them.

Just within my own department at Freeman Hospital there are doctors from Germany, Italy, Rumania, Bulgaria, Austria and Poland, a Greek nurse, an Italian house-keeper on one of our wards and a Rumanian physicist

But 10,000 EU health workers left the NHS in the 12 months after the Brexit vote, an increase of 22% on the previous year, and 42% on the year before that.

Meanwhile, the number of health workers joining the NHS from the EU is shrinking. There has been a drop of nearly 90% in the number of nurses from the EU registering to work in the UK and a 94% drop in the number of European midwives in the year after the vote.

Overall the NHS currently has 100,000 vacancies, 35,000 of which are for nurses.

Of course it's not just staffing problems that will affect the NHS. A trade deal will determine how much we can keep the benefits of drawing medicines and devices from across the EU .The agreements we reach on customs, and whether we have time to prepare, will determine whether delays and disruption hit hospital finances and vital supplies.

If the cost of Brexit is a broken NHS, it can't be the right path for our country.

The extra funding recently announced for the NHS is of course welcome, but there needs to be clarity about where the money will come from and the IFS and the King's Fund have said that it won't be enough to deliver a modern NHS that treats people with mental and physical ill health equally.

Teresa May has called for a more efficient NHS, but this will be impossible to achieve when none of the new funding is going towards social care, public health or prevention.

This is not the long-term plan that the NHS and social care need. To achieve this, the Government must accept the need to work with others to find a solution which offers sustainable funding.

The Liberal Democratss are the only party putting forward an immediate 1p increase in income tax - which would raise an additional £6bn a year for the NHS and social care and many people throughout the UK support that policy

On social care, the Government must come forward as soon as possible with a solution to the funding crisis and ideas for how Health and Social Care can be effectively and properly integrated to provide a seamless service for residents who need care. This can't be fudged any longer.

Mayormaking (Robin Ashby)Speaking in the same debate, Cllr Robin Ashby said :

As I may have mentioned previously, I have a daughter and two granddaughters alive and healthy today thanks to the Special Care Baby Unit, a world class facility at the RVI here in Newcastle.

Like very many others, I have cause to be very grateful to the staff within the NHS. But that must not blind us to the institution itself - the fifth largest emplyer in the world.

I was born before the NHS was created, one of only a small proportion of people in the Council Chamber in that position. And it's about attitudes to old people that I want to speak of now.

It has been reported by Age UK that cancer treatment drops off dramatically after the age of 75 - but yet a third of all cancers are diagnosed after that age.

The Royal College of Surgeons says that rates of elective surgery for a range of common conditions are considerably lower for the over 65s.

The Centre for Policy on Ageing says there's under-investigation and under-treatment of the elderly in cancer care, cardiology and strokes.

And all this in a context whose latest manifestation is the Gosport War Memorial Hospital where over 11 years as many as 650 elderly patients were given high strength opiods without clinical need, seemingly shortening many lives.

Two years ago my brother and I watched over our mother dying over the course of a week. But when we weren't there, we had causes for concern about the way she was treated, and how her wartime attitude of "not wanting to be a bother" was accepted at face value, to her detriment.

There is something seriously wrong about the way many of our most vulnerable citizens end their days. The patient management system in Newcastle is, I'm told by experts, amongst the best there is. But this motion is not just talking about Newcastle. So while I support the amendment and the spirit of the motion, we must not deceive ourselves and the public by continually eulogising the institution of the NHS, and calling for ever more funds without checking results and outcomes.

After 70 years it needs to look at itself and ask "Can we do better, especially for older people" And it must. As Psalm 71 says : Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.