Ministers could immediately stop our patients from passing away in NHS hospital hallways.
NHS workers must count their lucky stars that the man who wrote Zero: Eliminating Unnecessary Deaths in a Post-Pandemic NHS is the second most powerful politician in the nation, while they are forced to see their patients die in hallways, cabinets, on floors, and in stuck ambulances.
Because Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, is unable to passively watch as these crisis conditions persist, can he? He is the only one who truly understands that avoidable fatalities are the worst types of deaths, the ones that sicken families and medical professionals to the core. He has authored 320 pages on this very subject.
Let’s not forget how passionate Hunt is about this issue. His book, which was just released in May, has a morally upright blurb. He inquires, “How many unnecessary fatalities occur in the NHS each week?” “150. What number should we try to achieve? Zero. Mistakes do occur. However, nobody should end up as a statistic in a hospital run by the NHS. Therefore, we must strive for zero.
Even better, he provides a strategy for getting there that, rare for a politician, is based on radical candor. Avoid lying. Don’t evade. Never spin. Do not conceal. Being open and honest about errors and failures is the first and most important step in correcting them.
The government’s actual approach to the humanitarian crisis engulfing the NHS is a twisted inversion of everything the chancellor pretends to hold dear, much to the collective anguish of frontline personnel.
Downing Street initially attempted to ignore it. The health secretary, Steve Barclay, was chirpily tweeting about the benefits of parkrun the day after the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM), Adrian Boyle, estimated that between 300 and 500 people were dying avoidable deaths every week as a result of the complete breakdown of emergency services.
The administration then attempted denial, with one of Rishi Sunak’s spin doctors vehemently rejecting the claim that the NHS was in trouble. Perhaps they perceive political spin as a game. However, as someone who must listen to the cries and experience the pain, I can attest that trying to downplay real people’s avoidable deaths — their actual, needless experiences of misery, indignity, and terminal suffering — is a form of dishonesty that is so egregiously abhorrent that it has no place in government.
Thankfully, Boyle and RCEM vice-president Ian Higginson, both of whom work as frontline emergency consultants, have excelled in their evidence-based, no-nonsense opposition to the flimsy denials produced by the administration.
Consider Higginson’s recent interview with Times Radio that followed the government’s attempts to debunk those statistics for preventable fatalities. It is generally known that delayed hospital admission is associated with higher mortality. According to one study, one additional death occurred for every 82 patients whose inpatient bed transfers are delayed by more than six to eight hours from their admission at the emergency department. Higginson then kindly asked the heartbreaking question: “Is there an acceptable number [of needless fatalities] that our friends in NHS organizations and politicians are seeking?” Higginson had appropriately denounced the demeaning “war of macho and denial going on” Do we just accept the fact that patients are currently dying while they wait for ambulances in parking lots and outside of hospitals? … Every day of the week, real individuals are impacted by this issue.
Of course, Hunt has already responded to Higginson’s initial query. Zero. In the NHS, zero preventable deaths are acceptable. Therefore, how or why are we once more in this miserable situation where frontline staff are trying to speak the truth about patient damage but political officials who have the authority to truly address those harms are instead focusing on manipulating perceptions?
The government asserts that it has provided the NHS with all the necessary funding. Not at all. Sunak claimed that since September, “we’ve poured half a billion pounds into what’s termed early discharge, to help transfer individuals into the community this winter” in his first speech of the new year. Hasn’t he? Of that emergency cash, the NHS and local governments have only received £200 million, or 40% of it. The remaining £300 million is still unaccounted for and won’t be paid out until probably late January.
That is unacceptable, as one in seven hospital beds in England are occupied by medically healthy patients who lack the care packages they require to leave the hospital safely. Because every available bed space is essentially a question of life or death for the people suffering from heart attacks and strokes at home while waiting for ambulances that never arrive.
Make no false assumptions. The government has the power to lower the number of preventable deaths right now if it so chooses. As it did under Covid, it may finance the block booking of care home beds to allow for the discharge of thousands of medically healthy people from hospitals. It might organize a volunteer emergency care force to assist patients following discharge at home. It might put an end to the absurd pension trap for senior doctors, which compels consultants to reduce their hours voluntarily or face punishing six-figure tax penalties. Above all, if it cared about the widespread burnout and despondency that drive so many desperate staff members to leave the NHS they once cherished, it could finally break its 12-year fixation with crafting NHS headlines and speak the truth.