Why is NHS care simply not there for so many?

The UK NHS system is under more pressure than ever. A recent poll by a major UK thinktank showed that over the pandemic over a third of adults struggled to access NHS care, driving many to private healthcare. Since the pandemic, many have still failed to access the care they require, with NHS GP practices being criticised for appointment shortages and mental health services shortages. The British Medical Association reports that many of the backlogs of surgeries from the pandemic still haven’t been addressed, and staff shortages remain. Millions still struggle to register with an NHS dentist and waiting lists for procedures remain long.

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In July 2022 a new Health Act was passed in parliament, which hopes to rectify this situation by, as the independent UK health thinktank the “Kingsfund” reports, establishing “a legislative framework that supports collaboration and partnership-working to integrate services for patients.” The aim of this is to improve NHS services and ensure that more people access the high-quality NHS services they require. However, the NHS's failings with staff, resources, waiting times and bureaucracy, push more and more people in the UK to decide to go private for medical care.

What services are hard to access?

The Health Foundation in the UK reported that waiting lists are, in 2022, still growing despite the pandemic being over. This is because of staff shortages and backlogs of patients, and budget cuts which have minimised the number of available resources. This has specifically affected cancer patients and those requiring NHS dentist care.

Longer waiting lists increase the inconvenience, pain, anxiety, and uncertainty for both patients and their families and whilst waiting symptoms can worsen. This was seen in the pandemic especially when many cancer patients’ tumours went unrecognized, resulting in quick progression and increased fatality of the disease. Waiting can also worsen and increase the debilitating effects of an untreated injury causing more long-term damage and disability to a patient.

NHS dental services are now so long that in many areas it is hard to even register with a dental practice. This means that many people in the UK are forced to either not see a dentist altogether or seek private care. Many people, according to the Health Foundation, would have sought private medical care from the outset when seeking medical care, if they had known they would have to wait so long.

Mental Health services are also highly varied in the UK. The UK charity Mind reports that the acute struggles to access NHS mental health services in COVID19 remain, despite the pandemic being over. Many people report difficulty getting an appointment with their GP or accessing GP services over the telephone for a referral to mental health care. Mental health crisis teams are also deemed incredibly hard to reach and many struggle with the shortcomings of mental health digital services. Digital services also discriminate as not all have the same technological skills or availability, creating barriers for many for care. With many NHS mental health services reporting huge increases, especially in the young for those requiring mental health support, and sharp increases in the numbers taking their own lives each year, NHS mental health support services are needed more than ever and the care is simply not there.

Maternity care is something many struggle to access, resulting in growing numbers of mother and child death in childbirth, simply because of failures to access a GP or midwife prior to birth to diagnose key conditions such as pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes. This is something promised to be addressed specifically by the current government in its manifestos.

NHS services also differ hugely based on where you are located in the UK. Many have criticised the “London-centric” focus of NHS care as the struggles many in remote or countryside areas have for accessing care remains a huge problem. Each new government reshuffle promises to revolutionise the NHS services and remove all inequalities, whether financial, age, location or social, but many remain. This is especially problematic for those seeking reproductive assistance, where many NHS services are a postcode lottery, and the number of IVF cycles per patient varies based on location, which is unfair and has created a system where people move home purely to access previously unobtainable care.

What is the solution?

The NHS remains one of the most fantastic organisations in the world, supporting a nation and saving lives. It attracts the best medical professionals from the best universities and has cutting-edge technology based on pioneering research. Its early diagnostic services are the early intervention that leads to disease prevention and its medical advances pave the way for worldwide medical practices. It is quite simply remarkable how much it has achieved and continues to achieve each day. It is because of this that it deserves our utmost respect and protection.

However, like any institution, it is not without flaws, and many are still struggling to access its resources. More and more people in the UK turn to private care each year in a bid to get the care they require and yet this option still remains unobtainable for most.

The future of the NHS remains as always uncertain. Each new government promises to change everything and there is much hope in the new Health Care bill of 2022. What is clear, is that we are lucky to have the NHS as so many countries have nothing, and any care is better than no care, but improvements are needed and possible. No one should have to struggle to access NHS care, and we should all aim for a future where essential care is simply always just there.

Copyright Laura Campbell 02/08/2022

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Laurentia (Laura)Campbell

Laurentia (Laura)Campbell

Neuroscience, mental health and nutrition academic and writer. Life-experimenter, trying to add value with an insatiable appetite for actioning positive change.