The time has come for frank discussions to address the issues pushing our NHS to the brink of collapse.
That’s the stark message from a leading councillor tasked with scrutinising the health services in Leeds at a time of unprecedented pressure.
Today we publish a letter about the crisis engulfing the NHS in which Coun Peter Gruen sets out 12 recent events giving him cause for concern, including cancelled operations, patients waiting on trolleys in hospital corridors and a shortage of community beds.
The chairman of Leeds Health Scrutiny Board told the YEP: “People are genuinely worried, I think, that the NHS might just fail under the pressure and not be able to cope.
“Who on earth would have thought that we would be back to trolleys queuing in corridors?
“It’s absolutely appalling that people can’t get into A&E, can’t get into a bed and we’re having elective operations cancelled. To me, it’s at breaking point.”
A senior city councillor has said patients and NHS staff are being let down because of a refusal to talk honestly about the problems faced by the system.
Coun Peter Gruen, who chairs Leeds Health Scrutiny Board, said current efforts focused too much on short-term solutions and were failing to address the root causes.
The latest NHS figures showed there were 19,732 A&E attendances to Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust sites in November, with 81.1 per of patients admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours.
It was among a number of trusts in Yorkshire to miss the 95 per cent national target, including the neighbouring Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said earlier this month that four hour targets for A&E should be for people turning up with urgent medical needs, not the estimated 30 per cent who could be treated just as well by others parts of the NHS.
“I think that’s treating the symptom but not looking at why people are going to A&E,” Coun Gruen said. “People prefer waiting three or fours hours knowing there’s a certainty they will be seen. The crisis isn’t in A&E, it’s because there aren’t enough doctors.”
He highlighted the example of a surgery in his Whinmoor ward which closed when the GP retired and a replacement could not be found.
Funding has also come under scrutiny this month after Prime Minister Theresa May claimed the NHS had been given all the money it wanted. But NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens told the Commons public accounts committee that they got less than asked for and the UK spent less on health than comparable advanced nations.
Coun Gruen said: “People need to stop playing around with the figures to suit themselves. There needs to be an agreement on what’s going to be spent and how services are delivered.”
He said there was a reluctance to look at the whole system, adding: “It can’t be done if we’re trying to take massive amounts of money out.”
His letter highlights concerns about the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP), which was published in November in draft form.
The plan is being built from six local area plans for Bradford, Calderdale, Harrogate, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield.
Rob Webster, the STP lead, said: “These six local plans are where the majority of the work happens across the STP footprint and decisions are made as close to local populations as possible to ensure services are sustainable and meet people’s health and social care needs now and in the future.”
He said the basis was a “belief that it is better to work together across the area on a number of areas such as stroke care and urgent and emergency care.”
The STP area was also selected by Mr Hunt as England’s first “acceleration zone” in an initiative designed to tackle the worsening crisis in hospitals.
It is being expected to turn around in emergency and urgent care by March, using £8.6m from NHS England.
Meanwhile, Leeds Systems Resilience Assurance Board – a high-level decision making body for the local NHS – said it was working with health and social care partners in the city to relieve pressure on hospitals.
A spokesman said regular updates were given to the scrutiny board and the Leeds Health and Wellbeing Board. He added: “Our top priority is always to provide the best possible care to every patient. We are extremely grateful to all of the staff who work incredibly hard to do this.”
Coun Gruen said there was no question that NHS staff in the city were not committed but politics all too often got in the way of honest discussions.
“In my role, everybody I meet is professional, dedicated, hardworking and wants to see the NHS succeed,” he said. “However, there are such huge issues now that if we go to, say, care for the elderly, it’s absolutely clear there isn’t enough money in the system. We need people to put all the facts and figures on the table and find a solution.”