When the National Health Service was launched on 5th July 1948, the aim was to provide free health care for all UK residents. Regardless of their social standing, income, employment status or any other factors, people are entitled to receive medical treatment free of charge.
It replaced the payment of fees for treatment: a system that had left poorer people at a disadvantage when they needed health care. Doctors, nurses, hospitals and dentists were all brought together under one service that became the envy of the world.
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The NHS is undoubtedly the greatest British institute, but 73 years after its creation, it is struggling to survive after facing the unprecedented challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.
How much does the British public rely on the NHS?
The NHS treats more than one million patients every 36 hours. Before the pandemic began early in 2020, there were 16.3 million hospital admissions in one year – an increase of 28% on the figure a decade earlier. There were also 23.4 million visits in a year to hospital A&E departments – an increase of 23.5% over ten years.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused serious disruption of NHS services including A&E departments, hospital admissions for non-Covid cases, primary care and regular GPs’ surgeries. Every aspect of the NHS has been impacted.
The pandemic saw fewer people attending hospital A&E departments. In April 2020, visits to emergency departments were down by 48%, compared with the same period in 2019. However, this didn’t necessarily mean less people were falling ill or suffering injuries.
What future challenges does the NHS face?
With the hospitals’ backlog of cases and operations, public service cuts and reduced staff numbers, the NHS faces unprecedented challenges in 2021 and beyond. Health chiefs in the NHS have warned that staff need time to recover from the extra demands and general trauma caused by the pandemic.
A report by the NHS Confederation, Putting People First, relating to supporting NHS staff post-Covid, suggests there is a real risk of losing overstretched doctors, nurses and other key workers in the long term because they need some breathing space. If thousands of key medical workers leave the NHS, there will be a real staffing crisis.
The NHS Confederation represents the whole health system and warns the UK isn’t out of the woods yet, as the NHS still faces the threat of coronavirus. Exhausted nursing staff may leave their job unless the government acts now – it needs to fulfil its manifesto promise of recruiting an extra 50,000 nurses. It is also calling for the creation of health care services that tackle the weaknesses in the current system that Covid-19 has exposed.
Data released by the Office for National Statistics on 24th September 2021 showed the rate of hospital admissions for Covid patients was 6.36 per 100,000 people in the week ending 19th September. Although it has decreased slightly, it is still higher than it was during the same period in 2020.
How have mental health services been affected?
Covid-19 has hit people with mental health problems hard, especially the three lockdowns and enforced isolation. Mental health and wellbeing services are described as already being “under pressure” and they are likely to be stretched further as more adults and young people need help.
One study has estimated up to ten million people will require additional or new mental health support as a result of spending long periods in isolation during 2020 and 2021. Yet employee absence caused by staff falling ill, or having to self-isolate, is having a negative impact on the NHS’s ability to deliver the necessary services.
The same challenges are being faced in care homes and for people needing domiciliary care services to enable them to stay in their own home. Media reports have suggested NHS staff are being asked to postpone or cancel leave, as greater pressure faces the services.
How will the government fund improvements?
The government has recently announced an increase in National Insurance payments of £1.25 in the pound to fund social care and help the post-pandemic NHS. However, in doing so, it has come under fire for going back on its 2019 election manifesto promise not to raise the rate of NI.
The scheme, due to start in April 2022, is aimed at raising an extra £12 billion per year to support the NHS and social care. Another change is planned for April 2023, when NI will decrease to its current rate, but the government will still claim extra money from the public through its new Health and Social Care Levy.
A report in the British Medical Journal suggests the pandemic has revealed “fundamental weaknesses” in the public health system and social care. In particular, it claims social care has been “neglected” by successive governments, who have applied a “sticking plaster solution” instead of introducing sustainable reforms.
The government’s spending review in November 2020 was accused of being part of the problem, as although the extra funding may shore up the system for a while, there was no indication of when the long-awaited Green Paper on Social Care would be released.
Keeping health environments safe
As well as financial considerations, the health service must also focus on maintaining a safe and efficient working environment.
Automatic Access has a long track record when it comes to designing and installing safe and reliable automatic doors for the healthcare sector. From GPs’ surgeries to hospitals, we have worked with many clients to ensure smooth access to buildings.
Apart from automatic doors reducing the number of people who need to physically touch door handles when entering NHS premises, they also ensure the building complies with the Disability Discrimination Act, which stipulates any building open to the public must be as accessible as possible.
In the healthcare sector, this is particularly important, as premises are routinely visited by infirm and vulnerable people. Automatic doors are crucial to ensure they can safely access and leave buildings.
Automatic Access provides automatic doors that open with minimum effort. We also provide doors that open wide enough to accommodate stretchers, wheelchairs and hospital beds. Please contact us today for further details of our products and services for the NHS.