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The 'predictable perfect storm' leaving the NHS struggling

  • ITV News Health Correspondent Emily Morgan on what the issues are in the NHS

What is going on in the NHS?

I keep getting asked this question and the answer, according to those in the know, is complex.

The overriding issue that most experts, as well as the Labour Party, point to is years of underfunding.

You don't have to look very far to find a doctor or a nurse to tell you there aren't enough staff to run the service.

Doctors say the NHS is lacking staff. Credit: ITN

The Government has even accepted this and announced a massive recruitment drive for nurses to help fill the 40,000 vacancies.

A lack of staff has obvious consequences - fewer patients are seen, targets are missed and operations postponed - that goes some way to explain why waiting lists for treatments are at their highest in more than ten years (4.3 million) and why A&E is still so stretched, even now during the summer months.

4.3
million patients are currently on the waiting list for treatment
A&E
just four out of the 119 major emergency departments met the four-hour waiting target
2008
waiting times for diagnostic tests are the worst in over a decade

But it's not just staff problems.

Demand on the service has increased year on year, mainly because we are all living longer and with more complex conditions.

More people need operations, so it stands to reason there are more and more on waiting lists.

But why aren't those waiting lists going down?

The summer months are traditionally when hospitals play catch up.

The winter crisis is over, planned operations get done and the backlog is tackled.

But when the winter crisis just keeps going there is no let up.

A&E departments and frontline staff are still under pressure.

Of the 119 major A&E departments in England, just four met the target to see and discharge patients within four hours.

Waiting lists are continuing to rise. Credit: PA

When you read figures like that you start to understand the scale of the problem.

It all has a knock-on effect: operations get cancelled and postponed and waiting lists continue to rise.

Stella Vig, a leading surgeon, told us that there was no such thing as an NHS winter crisis anymore, arguing an "all-year round crisis" was a far more accurate description.

A lack of investment and failure to fill staffing gaps had, she said, created the "predictable perfect storm" leaving the health service stretched even in summer months.

She went on to grimly predict that the waiting list for treatment could hit five million by Christmas.

There are two other crucial things exacerbating the problem.

Many consultants are refusing to work overtime due to changes to tax breaks in pension savings - the more they earn over £110,000 the more they lose in tax relief.

Their solution is to keep their hours down and not work overtime.

The unintended effect is that fewer operations are done.

The government has promised to look at this but the consultation has only just begun.

The final point to make is about our current political situation.

The leadership race, along with Brexit, has meant decisions about the NHS and indeed social care are on hold and very little health policy is being delivered.

It doesn't take a genius to work out things are not going to get better while the Government's focus is elsewhere.