Whose fault is the current NHS crisis? Today Jeremy Hunt apologised to patients whose operations have been cancelled as a result of serious pressures on hospitals. There are ‘major incidents’ at 16 hospital trusts, and the Royal College of Emergency Medicine is warning that patients who do end up in crowded and chaotic emergency departments ‘are much more likely to have a poorer outcome and even die as a result of their experience’.
The Health Secretary said the current situation was ‘absolutely not what I want’, while Theresa May argued that ‘the NHS has been better prepared for this winter than ever before’.
The government has not met Simon Stevens’ full demands for additional funding for the NHS, and emergency departments say they are in fact the worst prepared they’ve ever been for the winter. But it isn’t quite fair to say that this is all the fault of the people who’ve been making political decisions over the past few months.
The fault really lies with politicians from across the spectrum who have repeatedly shied away from levelling with the public about the choices facing not just the NHS but also the social care system. It is in fact preferable to have a winter A&E crisis than to tell voters that either they will need to pay much higher taxes to continue funding the current level of provision from a health service that was not designed to deal with the complexities of an ageing population and the obesity crisis, or that some of the free-at-the-point-of-access provision has to end.
There is no chance that any party will attempt to say either when they fear their opponents will use it as a political football, which is why despite repeated calls from Norman Lamb, Sarah Wollaston and Liz Kendall for cross-party work on the future of the health and social care systems, no-one is doing anything. If the past decade has taught politicians anything, it is that it’s best to hope that someone else will deal with the real NHS crisis.