Today's NHS - our current challenges
The NHS is currently facing the biggest challenge in its existence.
While on a day-to-day basis most areas of the service are running perfectly well at present, we are already seeing signs of the strain the system is under in areas such as hospital care, A&E and GP services. The reasons for the service reaching this crisis point are many, but here are the main ones:
An ageing population
The NHS was set up to treat people with diseases. Many of the diseases that would have killed people 65 years ago, have been cured, which is brilliant. While that means people are living for longer, it also means that they are, probably, living with one or more illnesses (long-term complex conditions) such as diabetes, heart and kidney disease. In turn, that means ongoing treatment and specialist care.
The way we live now is also having a negative impact on our health. Drinking too much alcohol, smoking, a poor diet with not enough fruit and vegetables and not doing enough exercise are all major reasons for becoming unwell and needing to rely on our health services. Increasing numbers of overweight children show us that this problem is currently set to continue.
The change in public expectations
Originally, tackling disease was the main job of the NHS. Now, we all expect so much more. From advice on healthcare management through to mental health and social care, contraception, antenatal and maternity services, vaccination programmes and the fast, efficient processing of our medication and appointments. All of this with a growing population due to living longer and higher birth rates with lower infant mortality.
Accident and Emergency departments
More and more people are visiting A&E departments and minor injury units – which is stretching the ability of the departments to cope. A lot of the visits are unavoidable, but some are visiting because of inconsistent management of their long-term health conditions, the inability to get a GP appointment or insufficient information on where to go with a particular complaint. Winter sees an even bigger rise in visitor numbers with staff finding it harder by the year to cope.
The current financial crisis, rising costs of services, energy and supplies; innovations and technological breakthroughs that require more investment – along with higher numbers of people to cater for – all spell out a huge economic disaster for the NHS.
It is estimated that without radical changes to the way the system works, as demand rises, and costs rise too, the NHS will become unsustainable, with huge financial pressures and debts. If we make no changes we face a £30 billion funding gap for the NHS nationally by 2020 .
Advances in medicine and technology
The great news amongst all of this gloom is that there has never been a better time to face an overhaul. Huge advancements in medicine and surgery, alongside IT and technological innovations mean that there is a wealth of ideas and efficiencies that could potentially be implemented to bring our NHS up to modern standards to meet the needs of us all in the 21 Century. Utilising these new approaches within a major restructure the NHS could go on to be a reassuring source of health care and wellbeing, as well as an inspirational model of good working practice for years to come.