Sussex Defend the NHS held a street party outside the ONCA gallery where the quilts are on display yesterday, 05 July to celebrate the 75th birthday of the NHS and NHS staff.
Speaking to Dr Rob Galloway who is an A&E consultant, he said the new build at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton will make a “massive difference.”
He has also developed a hybrid digital workforce planning approach to help with staffing which has been commended by the Care Quality Commission. It’s a hybrid consultant rota which met the Royal College staffing guidelines for emergency medicine and could usefully be adapted and rolled out across the Trust. It means there are no gaps in staffing in A&E medical wards which is a real achievement.
Asked about particular pressures on the A&E department, he said the main problem is social care. Patients can’t get to hospital when they need to and discharge to social care is far too slow.
He also said patients are waiting 12 to 20 days for mental health beds and end up waiting days in A&E. There are enough A&E beds but not enough mental health beds.
Dr Galloway then addressed supporters and said: “I’m an A&E consultant and have worked in Brighton since 2001. It’s not an easy job, but it is one I’m very proud to do.
“Your quilts represent what is so important about the NHS and I see it every day in the work my colleagues (NHS staff) and I do – treating people based on need and not profit.
“I look after a dustman with a broken leg from a worksite injury, in the same way I look after a banker with liver damage from excessive caviar and champagne.
“Despite what is happening, the NHS is the greatest and best value for money insurance policy we have – if we or our loved ones get ill, then we just need to work on getting better and not becoming bankrupt.
“But it is under threat. And it’s at risk like never before. Waiting lists for operations are at their highest levels ever, longer and long waits for beds after being seen in A&E and for the first time since the NHS was formed, life expectancy is starting to fall.
“It can and it must survive and that’s why what you do is so important to fight for its survival.
“In July 1948, every household received a letter to explain the creation of the NHS… You are all paying for it, mainly as tax payers and it will relieve your money worries in times of illness.
“The nation rejoiced as the realisation hit and it became apparent that people should no longer die ever again because of their lack of wealth.
Reflecting on the beginning of the NHS, he said: “On 5 July 1948, the keys to Park Hospital in Trafford, Manchester were symbolically handed over to Nye Bevan who took them on behalf of the country…
“The first patient through the doors was a 13 year-old girl name Sylvia Beckingham, who was admitted for a serious liver condition.
“She came from a working-class background and her family could not afford the care she needed.
“Without the NHS, she would have died.
“With it, she survived and went on to live a fulfilling life as a teacher, Mum and by all accounts an amazing piano player.
“She epitomises the NHS’ long and great history.
Dr Galloway said there is reason to hope: “In the last 75 years, infant mortality has fallen from 36 per 1000 births to less than four. Life expectancy has grown for men from 65 to 80 and for women from 70 to 84… (although it has fallen in the last two years.)
“But the way NHS staff deliver care has changed. When the NHS was set up there were 480,000 beds, now there are 120,000. The NHS is there to treat illness.
Explaining how the NHS has changed focus, he said: “In the past it was “fast things” which killed us and which the NHS was there for – trauma and infection.
“But now it’s slower less obvious causes such as neurodegenerative disease, cancer, cardiovascular and metabolic causes such as type two diabetes.
“Much more care, rightly, is done in the community by GPs including care of the elderly: doctors leading the way and preventative medicine and encouragement of public health initiatives (are) rightly becoming more important.
“So as illnesses change, the way in which the NHS works must change.
“Although things have been far from perfect in the NHS, it has always been resilient to the pressures thrown upon it. Now it needs that more than ever.
He said its staff are the backbone of the NHS: “But one thing which is no different is the dedication and devotion of the staff who work in the NHS. The NHS is not its buildings, its drugs or its machines. It’s NHS staff. They work for an institution whose ethos puts patients above all else.
“An institution which leads the world in research, cutting edge care but most importantly humanity.
“But it’s not a given that the NHS is here to stay. It does not have the universal support it had 13 years ago and it’s not cheap.
“It is money well spent, the ethos of doing what’s right for patients rather than profits means tests are arranged when they will change (medical) management, rather than where they allow profits to be maximised.
“This means it’s the most efficient health system in the world – even though it doesn’t feel like that at times. But that efficiency is being damaged by current political direction – you only have to look at what happened when the private sector got involved in PPE and track and trace.
“Yes, it needs reform, but in a way which encapsulates all it stands for. It also needs support and love.
“We need to support it as a best friend would do – with honest and reflective love and not unfettered adulation. Because only then can it reform and grow in the way our nation truly needs it to.
He described morale coming out of the pandemic: “NHS staff are demoralised and struggling. Claps on a Thursday and lights shining on buildings today, can’t stop the brain drain of expertise we are seeing.
“I manage major trauma in my day job. Giving blood is often needed to keep the patient alive. But to save a life, you need to stop the bleeding.
“NHS Workforce management is the same as trauma management.
“There is a real risk that the actual beneficiaries of the new NHS England workforce plan and investment will be the Australian health service.
“The NHS is nothing without NHS staff.
“I know so many doctors, nurses and others who are burnt out and do not think working in the NHS is worth it anymore. The long-term damage to patient care from this is enormous.
Dr Galloway criticised successive governments for under-investment that has resulted in the brain-drain: “The NHS is a brilliant concept which is being utterly mismanaged by our politicians.
“Those of us who work and use and need the NHS are being let down by our political leaders.
“We need new ideas, policies, workforce plans and funding to save the NHS before it’s too late.
“Our NHS, which was formed by heroes of World War Two, may not be there for our children.
“As Nye Bevan said, the NHS will survive as long as there are the folk with the faith to fight for it.
“We will fight it. We have to fight it. We have to be the folk, we have to have the faith and we must fight it.
Otherwise, our children will never forgive us.”
A summary of my three NHS articles to celebrate the 75th birthday of the NHS has been published by Sussex Bylines.