NHS: The Worst Winter? A story of stretched services told by frontline staff

  • Watch ITV News Anglia's special health programme - NHS: The Worst Winter?

Every week, we tell the stories of the NHS - its challenges, its triumphs, and, at times, its failings.

The stories matter because what affects the NHS affects us all: it's where our children are born, our relatives are healed, and our loved ones are supported in their toughest times.

But in recent times it has become hard to avoid the truth that our national health service is under serious strain - and at its worst extremes, often during winter, it is at breaking point.

In a news special - entitled NHS: The Worst Winter? - ITV News Anglia examines the health of the NHS, told through the stories of the staff working tirelessly on the front line.

We aim to show the knock-on consequences of problems in one area for other parts of the health service, rather than looking at problems in isolation.

From hospitals to GP surgeries, ambulance services to mental health trusts, the pressure is showing.

More than 800,000 people in the Anglia region are currently on a hospital waiting list. Almost 52,000 of those have been waiting more than a year.

There are more than 4,000 nursing vacancies in the East - more than a quarter in mental health services - with strikes looming before Christmas.

  • Amid the pressures, we heard inspirational stories of how the NHS has changed lives

As part of the series, ITV News Anglia was given exclusive access to the crumbling Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn, where staff are waiting and hoping for the funding for a new hospital.

It's not a metaphor to say the roof is falling in - nearly 3,400 props have been fitted to stop the failing ceiling from collapsing.

We heard from staff who told us about the struggle to get patients discharged because of a lack of social care.

That causes huge problems for hospitals and the ambulance service, who face long waits to drop off their patients.

That then impacts on their response times - which are so concerning that the national targets are becoming almost meaningless. For Category 2 calls - that includes strokes - the target is an average of 18 minutes. Here in the East of England, their average is 87 minutes.

Paramedics told us they feel powerless and frustrated about what's happening.

We heard about the measures that hospitals and the ambulance trust are taking to stem the problem - sending calls to community care providers or trying to treat more patients at home.

But all of that falls short of the wide-ranging reform of the social care system that many believe is the only way to address the issues.

Care home bosses have told us of the funding pressures they face as inflation makes it ever harder for them to provide the service they want to their residents.

Throughout our series of reports, two unifying threads emerged: the singular dedication of the staff who are the lifeblood of the NHS, and the appreciation of the patients it is there to serve.

In medicine, the principle of referred pain describes how pain felt in one part of the body is actually caused by pain or injury in another.

In the endlessly complex and interdependent NHS, nothing exists in a vacuum. Pain felt in one part can have its origins elsewhere.

Finding solutions is never simple, but ensuring the health of the whole system is in all our best interests.

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