Pressures on the NHS are at an all-time high. Several factors have impacted the organisation at every level for many years and the lasting impacts of the pandemic continue to stretch its resources ever thinner. Headlines have been dominated recently by strike action in various professions, but the one that’s been most unusual is the action taken by health and social care staff. Healthcare strikes on this scale are largely unprecedented in the UK and they’re symptomatic of deeper, underlying issues that relate to the overall pressures on the NHS. All this pressure can and probably will have an impact on public health in the short and long term – below we explore how this is manifesting in recent events.
Healthcare Professionals Feel Unsupported
A significant justification for the health and social care strikes has been surrounding working conditions, not just pay. This is largely due to the pressures that NHS staff are under with staffing shortages, capacity issues and dwindling resources. Any work environment where you aren’t given the support or resources you need to do your job properly is likely to be an extremely stressful one, on top of what is already a challenging line of work – and this is what NHS staff have been dealing with for years.
An alarming report covered by The Guardian stated that up to 40% of doctors and dental professionals could quit healthcare by 2028 due to mounting pressures and exhaustion. If the figure turns out to be anywhere near that reported in the article, the NHS may well become unsustainable and public health will suffer incomprehensibly.
Patients Might Not Get the Level of Care They Require
The consequence of healthcare professionals not feeling supported or valued in their profession could be a damning one for public health as the relationship between staff and patients becomes ever more strained. This runs the risk of care procedures and processes falling short of expectations, leaving the NHS liable to medical negligence claims and potentially lives lost due to all the contributing factors.
Not only that, a lack of care capacity because of bed and staff shortages means that patients are less likely to receive adequate care in a reasonable time. We’ve seen reports of A&E waiting times moving past 12 hours which not only represents the strain NHS staff are under but the impact seen on patient care in emergencies. The current situation in A&E isn’t far from what’s happening in all areas of health and social care – the severity and challenges of each care stream just differ.
What Can Be Done to Improve the Situation?
There’s obviously been a systemic failure to support and provide the NHS with what it needs to run sustainably – including (but not limited to) staff, funding and resources. Resolving staffing shortages and increasing care capacity would be a huge step to ease the pressure on individual health and social care professionals, but that’s not an easy or cheap fix and could take years to resolve.
Allowing healthcare professionals to do their jobs to the expected standard and without the pressures mounting on the system as a whole will be key to reversing the strained relationships between staff and patients, decreasing the likelihood of inadequate care in all areas of the public health system. Ultimately, this change has to come from the top and the government needs to be willing to implement strategies to ease the many concerns that are present.
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