As a GP in the heart of England, my calling has always been caring for my patients within our NHS.
Over 15 years in this profession have shown me the ups and downs, the challenges, and the achievements of our healthcare system.
Yet, it was a personal journey that revealed to me the full extent of the strain that our beloved NHS faces.
And how we’re at risk of losing it for good.
In June this year, a serene summer evening took an abrupt turn when a freak cycling accident rendered me unconscious and critically injured on the pavement. A close pass, a hard pull on the brakes and everything changed in a second as I somersaulted onto hard concrete.
I found myself transformed from a care provider into a patient within moments.
The severity of my injuries included nine broken ribs, a punctured lung, and a shattered clavicle. Yet, my physical pain was only compounded by the jarring reality – relayed by a good samaritan who stopped to help – that an ambulance would take seven hours to arrive.
I relied on my father for an agonising 30-minute car journey to the hospital, my plight reflecting the fading hope for a healthcare system battling under-resourced challenges.
Despite my critical state, my admittance to the hospital was met with a swift professional assessment. This initial efficiency, however, was the calm before the storm.
I spent the next 14 excruciating hours in severe discomfort, the chronically understaffed hospital unable to provide advanced pain relief techniques. Only after a distressingly long delay was a compassionate anaesthetist able to administer nerve-blocking injections that offered a brief respite.
My instinct was to have faith, not to be a professional; this was my NHS and it would help me.
I was wrong – as I saw things get worse and worse, even in agony I wanted to be a ‘good patient’ and not fuss. Even when I relented and questioned what was happening to me, the system couldn’t help – there was neither the staffing nor the expertise that should have caught me in my moment of need.
In the days that followed, I observed the unwavering resilience and dedication of the hospital staff. Their heroic efforts to juggle overwhelming patient needs with scarce resources were as inspiring as they were heartbreaking.
The image of these overworked professionals tirelessly navigating the sea of patients is a powerful testament to the consequences of austerity on our healthcare system.
Upon discharge, five days later, I knew from experience that the scant amount of pain medication I was being sent home with was grossly inadequate for managing my injuries. It was a small fraction of the pain relief I’d needed in hospital, and without the luxury of nerve blocking medications being injected regularly.
Why? Staff levels low, both in terms of doctors and pharmacists to check and prepare prescriptions. I recognised a very standard, inadequate bundle of medications that must be prescribed hundreds of times a day. I wondered how many like me were left gasping in pain.
The necessity to contact my own GP practice underlined the strain transferred from overwhelmed hospitals to general practitioners. Each additional case like mine burdens these GPs further, denying other patients the care they deserve.
I was incredibly lucky and had a responsive, knowledgeable GP contact me immediately; the pain relief they prescribed and the care they gave couldn’t have been bettered by a specialist pain service. Not everyone will be so lucky, and my consultation cost someone else theirs.
I thought about the number of times I’d had to do this myself as a GP – I’d scarcely believed this could be a regular occurrence but here I was, caught in an unfolding nightmare.
This vicious cycle exposes the stark reality of a healthcare system operating beyond its capacity.
Reflecting on my journey, it’s clear that the struggle of our NHS is a deeply personal narrative for each patient and healthcare worker. The remedy for this crisis is not in mere palliative measures but requires transformative, structural reforms.
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Despite cries to the contrary, we have underfunded our health services for years when compared to our direct peers. Now we reap what we have sowed – stretched and broken staff, harms and deaths to patients and a public being shepherded into a nightmare. Such is the scale of this unfolding disaster, responsibility can only rest at government level.
Our NHS needs to be invigorated with adequate funding to ensure efficient staffing and resources. An investment in preventative healthcare measures and robust community care can reduce the burden on our hospitals and GPs – a healthy population is both more productive and draws less on health and social care.
Moreover, integrating mental health support for our healthcare workers is imperative to combat burnout and improve patient care, too.
We should advocate for policies that prioritise healthcare funding, recognising the fundamental truth that a strong, well-resourced NHS is essential for our nation’s health.
Now more than ever, I find myself urging my loved ones to remain healthy, a sentiment underscored by my personal ordeal. I don’t have faith, anymore, that they will be looked after. I should, and did – but that was then, alas this is now.
Yet, this sentiment should not arise from a place of dread, but rather inspire a call to action.
We must strive for a future where every individual feels safe, secure, and well cared for under our NHS.
The resilience of our NHS is a testament to its dedicated workers and a symbol of hope. It is a beacon, guiding us towards a future where healthcare is not a casualty of fiscal stringency, but a celebration of comprehensive care and compassion.
Let’s ensure that our NHS remains the pride of our nation, and not something to fear.
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