Whitehaven News column – 25th September 2014

Time to Care

Since I was elected in 2005, local health services have been at the top of my agenda. Securing and improving NHS services in West Cumbria has been at the heart of virtually everything that I have worked for. A wide variety of partners have been involved in this effort, from our local authorities and trade unions, to businesses, patients and individuals. Not only do we need a strong, high quality service now, we need it to be sustainable for years to come.  Our NHS is one of the most cherished public institutions and it is close to the heart of everyone.  Passions run high; we all have a stake in the service and we all want to see it succeed.

Under this government things are getting worse.  Report after report has found that there are serious failings throughout healthcare in our region.  Sir Bruce Keogh’s report into our local Trust highlighted many areas of concern.  These were underpinned by one principle cause: staff shortages.  The work of our nurses, doctors, consultants, social care workers, porters, cleaners, administration workers and many more do incredible work in the most testing of circumstances.  These are professionals that care deeply about the service they work for and the patients they care for, but the trust is under-staffed, under-resourced, and under pressure.  Nurses work back to back shifts, with little break to ensure their patients, who are our friends and family, get the care they need.  They just don’t have the time to do more. 

Sir Bruce Keogh’s report and an investigation by the Care Quality Commission showed the impact throughout the service that a shortage of staff can have.  The CQC stated in their report that “care and treatment was delivered by committed and caring staff who worked hard to provide patients with good services, however … adequate staffing levels were not consistently achieved” meaning agency and bank staff have to be brought in to fill the gap.  A reliance on agency staff and locum doctors creates a multitude of problems.  Patients see a different person every time, when what they need is someone who understands their personal circumstances and their personal conditions.  Agency staff cost the NHS vast sums of money that would be better spent on patient care and finally, it causes problems for years to come, through an adverse impact on training places for new junior staff.

What we need, locally and nationally, is a new approach.  By 2020, Labour will train 20,000 new nurses, 8,000 new GPs, 3,000 new midwives and crucially, 5,000 home care workers. We cannot allow a repeat of the staff shortages that local doctors reported as “awful and very worrying”.  By giving services the resources they need, we can improve care and ensure the service is sustainable. Looking to the future, we also need to look at ‘growing our own’ medical professionals, teachers, engineers, social workers and entrepreneurs. If recruitment is a difficulty – and it is – we have to start to invest in our young people to resolve these problems and avoid further future problems right now.

Next Monday, 29th September, there will be a public meeting held at the Recreation Ground to discuss the future of our health services in West Cumbria. Representatives of North Cumbria Trust will be attending to answer your questions and outline their plans. I would urge everyone to come along and have your say.  It is your service, our community’s service and it needs to work for every single one of us. 

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