Lessons can be learnt from a closer look at health

The statistics that mask continuing real hardship

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Every day this week we have been looking in depth at the health service, and the pressures it faces.

The NHS is rarely out of the news, both locally and at a national level.

Down here, this month we’ve seen local doctors writing to Queen Alexandra Hospital to say they had little faith in its management – just the latest in a series of flashpoints that include the hospital’s debilitating PFI contract, the closure of the Royal Hospital Haslar, and the eternal gripes about the difficulty of booking an appointment with a GP.

The News launched the Under Pressure week not to criticise, but to explain the problems that the NHS faces and, crucially, why it faces them.

We started the week looking at accident and emergency, and in a leader column made a call for people to ensure they only go to casualty in a genuine emergency, and we would repeat that here.

But as the week as gone by, there are several other lessons to learn. The first is the fairly obvious one that while there is a tremendous need for health care at every level, we as a population need to make sure we do not take it for granted.

The sheer numbers of people using the NHS show important it remains – and how, particularly in a region such as this which has deprived areas, it must remain free at point of use.

We must realise that casualty is not for every sensation of illness outside normal working hours – and we need to realise that there are services such as walk-in centres and the NHS 111 phoneline that can be used instead.

It’s also apparent how interconnected the problems can be. A&E is over-stretched, yes, but often because NHS 111 operators direct patients there unnecessarily. And, as we report today, QA sees too many patients who are not discharged due to outside agencies – or families – not being able to take them. This costs money, and takes up valuable beds.

But despite the problems, the NHS remains an organisation to be cherished. We hope these features have illuminated the service and we also hope you will give your views on the survey printed in today’s paper.