A day in the life of a major hospital as the NHS celebrates 75 years

From newborn babies, to cancer care, and the emergency department, ITV News health and science correspondent Martin Stew spends a day at the Royal Preston Hospital

Baby Albert was born just days before the NHS’ 75th birthday, delivered flawlessly by elective caesarean by the team at the Royal Preston Hospital.

Like most of us, his parents have always known the safety net of the NHS - but they’re not blind to its struggles.

"They're doing the best they can," mum Isabel tells me.

"When you've actually got the staff there, they're amazing. It's just you can tell some cutbacks," dad Isaac adds.

330 babies are born each month at the Royal Preston. But they struggle to recruit enough midwives as many have left the profession or moved abroad for more money.

Midwife Lorraine has been doing the job for a decade and had her own babies in the ward. Her passion and dedication for the job is clear. But it's also clear she's working in a system under pressure.

Midwife Lorraine and little baby Albert. Credit: ITV News

"It’s understaffed, it's underfunded," she tells me.

"There's lots more improvements that need to be made. But it would be a great shame if it ever went away. I don't think people quite realise that sometimes," she adds.

With 9,000 members of staff, the hospital trust is the biggest employer in the area.

From what I saw - they’re brilliant - but the building they’re working in is tired.

The emergency department was originally built for 20 patients. This winter they were caring for 120. “It’s a good day when we’ve got a bed for every patient who needs it," Dr Michael Stewart, the consultant there tells me.

"It's sadly not unusual to see staff members in tears at the end of the shift because they know they could have done better and the level of pressure on the system just doesn't let them look after patients as well as they want to," he says.

Stepping away from the busy nurses' station briefly, I asked Matron Jennifer Ashcroft if she was confident patients are getting the treatment they should.

Matron Jennifer Ashcroft talks to ITV News' Martin Stew. Credit: ITV News

"No, I’m not confident," she says.

"We strive to give the best care but could you argue giving the best care in a waiting room or corridor is the best care?" she asks, referring to the scenes seen in emergency departments around the country this winter.

These challenges aren’t confined to Preston. In May, 31,500 people waited more than 12 hours to be treated in emergency departments in England, up from 19,000 in May 2022.

Patients we spoke to at the Royal Preston said waits had been short and care was excellent.

Nobody questioned the desire of staff to help or their ability.

The emergency department is the front door of the hospital. What is sometimes less obvious and gets less attention is the work that the NHS does away from here.

A ten-minute walk from the hospital's entrance is its cancer centre.

Here, I met Megan. She is coming to the end of her Surface Guided Radiotherapy Treatment for breast cancer.

Megan who is coming to the end of her Surface Guided Radiotherapy Treatment for breast cancer. Credit: ITV News

This used to be crudely calculated using rulers. Now it's done with millimetre precision thanks to Infrared technology. A treatment that would cost thousands privately.

"It has been amazing to know that this sort of failsafe is here for people like me because I've never planned on getting cancer at 28, that's not something I've budgeted for in my life," Megan tells me.

Back at the front door, there's a constant flow of emergency ambulances arriving and departing.

The North West Ambulance Service brought a patient to these doors 23,000 times over the last year.

I met Alan, a paramedic of 22 years. He's seen it all and says the care he is able to give to patients has improved dramatically since he started - but the demands on the service are also increasing.

Alan, a paramedic of 22 years. Credit: ITV News

"We're getting a lot of mental health jobs," he tells me as we jump into the cab.

"We're getting a lot of elderly patients because they're living longer and people ring an ambulance now a lot more for the little things that common sense could probably sort out," he says.

In the summer months, ambulances don't tend to queue outside hospitals as they do over winter, when the health service battles through flu season.

But Alan recalls spending one whole 11-hour shift sat outside a hospital with an elderly patient in the back, waiting for a bed to be available inside.

One reason that happens is a lack of beds in the social care sector. Essentially, patients who are fit to be discharged from the hospital can't be. And that means patients who need to be admitted also can't be.

Every day at the Royal Preston alone, there are 100 patients in beds who are ready to be discharged but can't be because of a lack of beds in the community.

To tackle that, the hospital has taken over a care home in the city. Here, at Finney House, 64 patients can convalesce, freeing up beds in the hospital.

The Royal Preston is one of the only hospitals to have taken this approach, one their boss is proud of.

Kevin McGee, Chief Executive of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, says the NHS is "incredibly pressurised" but it still copes and will continue to do so.

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