As a new wave of recriminations (we discussed the last round earlier this year...) rolls over the Government and Department of Health linked to yet another A&E waiting time crisis it is tempting to wonder if this troublesome recurrent condition is becoming a terminal illness.
Yet while pundits scratch their heads and rival politicians try desperately to uncover and exacerbate the multitude of symptoms and signs, a vital sign seems to have passed everyone by.
Yet only a few months ago, an extra funding injection of over £700m for NHS ‘Winter Pressures’ was announced by the Department of Health to deal with the anticipated peak in seasonal demand.
Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt hailed this as ‘one of the most comprehensive winter planning exercises the NHS has ever seen’ with money given to GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups across the country to allow the hiring of thousands of additional clinical staff, providing up to 2,500 extra hospital beds and support ambulance services. £25m was to be put into GP access with practices up and down the country spending up to £150 an hour for GPs to provide out of hours services and thus reduce the pressure on A&Es.
So what went wrong?
Like with all powerful medicines, the first thing a patient is asked to do is to ‘always read the label’. Communications is at the heart of medicine and so too with the A&E crisis.
There is general agreement that the most efficient way of providing care and preventing patients from running in their thousands to the hospital is to put more money into improving GP access. In many areas, GP practices have provided extra services and have opened at weekends and evenings as requested. But the fact that these services had been provided just hasn’t been communicated. GPs have sat twiddling their thumbs in their empty clinics while their patients go straight to A&E because they just didn’t know these services were there. No local newspaper/radio campaigns, no (heaven forbid) social media blitz, just a few posters on surgery waiting room walls.
If just a fraction of that £700 million had been spent on giving better local information to patients about how they could access the additional facilities laid on to prevent them having to go to hospital with their sore throat, then much of this present problem could have been avoided.
Good local communications may after all be the best medicine.