A lie cannot live, nor can it save lives
by Matt Coot
Martin Luther King Jr once said that “a lie cannot live”. In other words, lies that are told cannot continue to be told. The Coot family motto is vincit veritas, which is Latin for ‘truth prevails’. I feel very strongly that when a public figure, or a public body, perpetrates a fraud upon the public – when they lie – then that lie should be held up and the truth shone upon it. When a politician, or political group, lies to the electorate, then the truth should be revealed and those who lied should be held to account.
The Conservative government has told the electorate “we have increased health funding to a record level”. They say that they have done this “so people get the care they need”. They have also said that “we are investing more in mental health than ever before – transforming mental health services”. But is this the truth? Is the National Health Service (NHS) effectively treating patients? Is funding at levels that are record breaking and is this funding the amount it should be?
Before I present statistics to you, let me tell you a couple of stories from my very recent personal experiences with the NHS.
My father has a heart condition. We don’t know for certain what the condition is. The suggestion is that he has a “leaky valve”. He has been told that he also has something neurological wrong. This ‘something’ might link to a potential ‘mini-stroke’ or more than one. He saw his employer’s occupational health advisor on Wednesday. He was told to make an appointment with his GP to follow up on all these issues. So, he got home and went onto the GP practice’s website to make an appointment. None were available until mid-April. He tried again yesterday, same thing. This morning, he drove up to the practice and managed to make an appointment with a GP. The GP isn’t his assigned GP, and is someone who doesn’t know his entire history. But, if he was to wait for his assigned GP, he wouldn’t see her until mid-to-late-April. My father is 68 years old, with a heart condition, and potential history of ‘mini-strokes’, but he has been denied an appointment with his own GP because the practice is “over-whelmed”.
As regular readers would be aware, I’m someone who prides himself in research. I’ve delved into everything I could find on a “leaky valve” and have a basic knowledge of it. The British Heart Foundation says that “the valve does not close properly, it will allow blood to leak backwards” and “this can put extra strain on your heart and may mean that your heart has to do extra work to pump the required volume of blood”. If the problem develops into a serious problem, it could cause congestive heart failure. Pretty serious to make sure it is under control then, right?
A ‘mini-stroke’, or transient ischaemic attack (TIA), is caused by a temporary disruption to the blood supply to part of the brain. Sometimes, TIAs can lead to a major stroke. Think of strokes like earthquakes. Small earthquakes, known as foreshocks, can help seismologists to predict when a big earthquake is going to hit. The same can be said about TIAs and major strokes. Neurologists believe that TIAs can signal that a major stroke is on the way. So, you’d think, that the suggestion, from both my father’s optician and his occupational health advisor, that it is highly likely that he has suffered a TIA, that seeing his GP, or a specialist, would be of a high priority.
Specialists have been bouncing his referral between each other, the optician, and the GP, with no progress being made whatsoever. The GP practice, as I said, is overwhelmed with patient numbers and he cannot be seen by his own GP and will, instead, be seen by a GP who – at best – will be able to read over his notes in the thirty seconds it will take my dad to walk from the waiting area to the GP’s room. This isn’t good enough.
Mental health care
As for my own situation, I have been waiting for three months to hear from my psychiatrist since she cancelled our last appointment in December. Before that, I had last seen my psychiatrist in August (post-suicide attempt). The week before this cancellation, I was informed that my Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN), who was my care co-ordinator, would be leaving his job. This means that since early-December, I haven’t had anyone co-ordinating the care of my mental health. I have felt like I have been abandoned.
As regular readers will be aware, I went into the A&E department in early January because I was a risk to my own safety. During my last suicide attempt, I had been informed by the A&E consultant that they would rather I turn up in the department before I did myself damage than after. So, that was why I went into A&E. After this visit, I had an assessment with the on-duty CPN at the Community Mental Health Team for my local area. I was promised three things would happen:
- I was a ‘high priority’ to be assigned a new CPN as my care co-ordinator;
- I was a ‘high priority’ patient to be added to the wait list for Emotional Coping Skills workshops;
- The postponed appointment with the psychiatrist would be rearranged for as soon as possible.
After a month of waiting, in early February, I called up the Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) and spoke to the on-duty CPN again. He said that there had been no progress on any of the matters discussed. He said to call back “in a month” if I don’t hear anything before then.
It is now 9th March. I have waited over a month and I still haven’t heard anything. This means that it has been:
- 57 days since my assessment at the CMHT;
- 64 days since my admission to A&E (due to being a risk to myself);
- 92 days since the cancelled psychiatric appointment;
- 99 days since my assigned CPN informed me that he was leaving his job.
This is the mental health care given to someone perceived as a high risk and a high priority patient. I have also been on long-term sick leave since 14th January. Within that time, I have had long periods of time when I haven’t been able to leave the house. Before this week, it had been over a fortnight since I had even taken one step outside of the house. This week, I have managed to leave the house twice, but I required company.
Throughout the entire time that I’ve been requiring the services of the mental health team, I have been struggling with:
- Managing my mental health condition (Bipolar Disorder Type II);
- Coping with Excoriation Disorder (scratching, digging, and picking at my own skin causing bleeding and other damage);
- Self-destructive and self-criticising thoughts that are difficult to manage;
- Agoraphobic symptoms;
- Suicidal ideation;
- Severe depression;
- Severe anxiety.
What about everyone else?
A recent Guardian investigation unveiled that there have been 271 deaths of highly vulnerable mental health patients between 2012 and 2017. These deaths were due to failings in the NHS care. The Guardian reported that there had been 706 failings by NHS bodies throughout the same period of time.
According to the same report, from the Guardian, coroners have issued 136 legal warnings, throughout the same time period, to NHS bodies that have failed their patients. Some of these failings were found to be:
- Assessment of patient’s risk factors was inadequate and failed to notice suicidal ideation;
- Poor supervision of patients who were a suicide risk;
- Family members warning about their own fears of their loved ones taking their own lives was ignored;
- NHS staff making mistakes with medication;
- Patients being discharged too soon or without support;
- Poor or inappropriate care;
- Delayed treatment;
- Poor record keeping;
- Staff shortages;
- Insufficient funding;
- Insufficient resources.
Take a look at those last three points. Staff shortages, insufficient funding, and insufficient resources. These three reasons seem to be the key points here. Due to these issues, the members of staff in mental health care are forced into providing inadequate care, are overworked, and are more likely to make mistakes due to the pressure.
We’ve been told by the Conservative government that they have given more funding to mental health. In fact, they have gone as far as to say the funding is at ‘record levels’. Well, that would be a surprise to the Royal College of Psychiatrists. They published their findings in February 2018, which showed that 62% of mental health trusts have less funding than they did ten years ago. This was accounting for inflation, which the Tories seem to have neglected to tell the public.
The Conservative Party have been in government since 2010. Almost eight years of underfunding mental health care. Eight years of lying to the public. Eight years of staff shortages, insufficient funding, and insufficient resources. The Conservative government has blood on their hands. The Conservative government are the shame of the nation.
NHS staffing crisis
The Conservative Party are also responsible for cancelling the nursing bursaries for trainee nurses, midwives and allied health professionals. This has lessened the amount of people going into nursing training at universities by 23%.
Another problem regarding the number of nurses in the NHS is that the number of nurses coming in from the EU has already started to drop. Why? The referendum result and the instability of the Brexit process. The NHS in England employ 62,000 nurses from other EU nations. Add to that the 80,000 that work in adult social care, and that is approximately 142,000 nurses that could potentially leave the NHS. The Brexit process is continuing to lead to more and more uncertainty. These 142,000 nurses are not certain what their rights will be once Brexit is carried out. Who can blame them if they decide to jump ship before certainty is found?
There is yet another problem with NHS staffing. It has an ageing demographic with nearly half of its workforce being eligible for retirement in 2020. The Royal College of Midwives has said that there will be a 3,500 shortfall. That’s 3,500 fewer midwives. How is the Conservative government going to replace that huge number? I can tell you with certainty that it won’t be easy.
Staffing in the NHS is a huge problem. You see, NHS staff – specialist staff – are slower to be replaced than staff for other industries. If the NHS loses large numbers of staff, with lower numbers of staff training or immigrating, then the staffing crisis just increases to unsafe and unstable levels.
As I’ve said in another article, Theresa May has said that there are 13,900 more nurses on the wards of our hospitals than there were under Labour. She neglected to mention the community, mental health, and specialist learning disability nurses. Why? Because the numbers of these nurses has dropped. Analysis that was carried out in late 2017 shows that the NHS has at least 36,000 full-time nursing vacancies. At least. It is probably as high as 42,000. The BBC requested data in January 2018, and it showed that 10.5% of the profession, which is over 33,000 nurses and health visitors, left between January and September 2017. That is more than the number of nurses and health visitors joining the NHS. 3,000 more, to be precise. So, Theresa May might not exactly be lying with her cherry-picked data, but she certainly was misleading the public.
You might be wondering what the reason is as to why are so many leaving. It isn’t just retirement, it isn’t just the instability that Brexit brings, it isn’t just a general willingness to leave and do something different. No, it is because there is a growing number who are dissatisfied with their working conditions. They hate that they have an inability to deliver the right standard of care. They don’t have enough resources. They don’t have enough staff. Pressures are rising and they can’t do a good enough job. And when people in the NHS can’t do a good enough job, people die. Who has caused this? The Conservative Party.
NHS funding crisis
By 2020, it has been said that the NHS will be facing a £30 billion funding gap. This means that they will be facing an extraordinary funding crisis that will put patients’ lives at risk.
The NHS is also facing rising costs of services, energy, and supplies. Rising costs should mean more funding, right? Record levels of funding, right? If you listened to what Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt keep saying, you might be fooled into believing that the NHS is fine, and that funding is higher than it has ever been. But the NHS is not fine. The NHS is struggling.
In 2016/2017, the NHS spent £2.9 billion on agency staff. This was £700 million more than in 2009/2010. With high numbers of staff leaving the NHS and less people joining, they are being forced to spend out on temporary staff when funding is already being squeezed.
Between 2009/10 and 2020/21, the Department of Health budget will grow by 1.2% in real terms. Spending, in real terms, will be increasing 4% each year. That’s an increase in budget of 1.2% across eleven years and an increase in spending of 4% across each year. In other words, in ‘real terms’, the Tory government is underfunding the NHS.
NHS employees are heroes betrayed by the government
People who work for the NHS are heroes. They chose careers which mean that their daily lives are spent saving total strangers from death. They care for people they don’t know, and they support them at their most vulnerable states. People working in the NHS are, without a doubt, true heroes. How does this country repay them?
The government continues to absolutely destroy morale in the NHS. They hammer away at these heroes with ‘real terms’ pay cuts, with ‘real terms’ cuts to resources, and with ‘real terms’ not giving a damn about them.
I know what you’re going to say, ‘the government has announced a pay rise!’. You’re right, they have. The Conservative government has announce the first proper pay rise for NHS staff since 2010. A pay rise of 6.5% over three years. Wow. That is quite a rise. But, hang on a moment, the government are insisting that the NHS staff sacrifice a day of their already ridiculous amount of holiday in exchange for his pay rise. That isn’t a pay rise. In ‘real terms’ (a phrase that I’m starting to hate), this is another cut.
Why are the Conservative government announcing this? Because we are closing in on local elections and the opinion polls show that if there was a general election today, they would be losing votes. Also, MPs are receiving another astronomical pay rise to their already high salaries and expense accounts. Probably best to keep the electorate happy with a fake pay rise for the heroes in the NHS.
But here’s the thing… one in seven children of public service workers are living in poverty. So, not only are the government treating these heroes with absolute disrespect and killing their morale with pay cuts, funding cuts, and increased pressure, but they are also making a large majority of them to be living in poverty.
The Royal College of Nursing has confirmed that “growing numbers of nursing staff [are] using food banks, taking on additional jobs, and accruing personal debt”. They had also released a press release in 2016 saying that they had given 500 financial hardship grants and that one in four of these went to full time nurses (the others going to part-time, trainee, retired, or unemployed nurses).
The government is failing the NHS and the heroes working within it.
My conclusion, in ‘real terms’
The Conservative Party is lying. They are giving less money to the organisation that keeps us all healthy and aims at saving people’s lives. They punish the heroes who work within the NHS whilst lying about giving them better pay. In real terms, the Conservative Party is lying.