People are already dying in hospitals because of Brexit – I’ve seen it

People are already dying in hospitals because of Brexit – I’ve seen it

   November 19, 2018  
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People are already dying in hospitals because of Brexit – I’ve seen it

I stood in A&E, waiting to accept a patient who had tried to hang himself while waiting for mental-health support. The patient was an eight-year-old boy. Looking around A&E was like being in a Dickens novel. Skeletal fathers, drunk mothers; the Hogarth Gin Lane painting. The poverty was palpable. The corridors were lined with trolleys on which lay our elderly, afraid, alone and sick.

Those who fought wars for us. Those who raised us. Some of the patients were cold, too, unable to afford their heating bills, and hungry because they hadn’t any food in their cupboards and meals on wheels were a distant memory. So much suffering and loneliness. The nurses did not always have time to give the kindness, care and attention these people so desperately needed. It was not their fault. I’d worked shifts like this before, where we didn’t drink water or eat because there was no time, not even to use the toilet. In these conditions, nurses are leaving the NHS faster than they are joining. We are now over 40,000 nurses short in England alone.

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Patient populations are a true reflection of our human suffering. And we are suffering. The world has become dystopian in such a short space of time. When I started out as a children’s nurse in 1994, the children’s ward was full of babies who had asthma and needed nebulisers. Fat babies smiling through the steam of the oxygen, who got better for the most part pretty quickly and were discharged home – “happy wheezers” we called them. Now the children’s wards are lined with children and teenagers who have self-harmed or attempted suicide, or have been stabbed, been abused in ways you could not even imagine, or are suffering extreme anxiety, or their first psychotic episode and there are no mental-health beds available for them. Knife crime is increasing dramatically, and school nurses are sometimes the only healthcare professionals reaching these vulnerable children, providing vital mental-health support for teenagers, yet school nurse numbers are now at their lowest levels in a decade.

Funding for social care

That we are failing our young people and those suffering with mental-health issues so badly is a damning reflection of our values. And the way we treat our elderly is a national disgrace. Elderly people in the community require increasingly complex nursing care because we are living so much longer, and yet the numbers of community nurses are being cut. At a time when our population is ageing like never before, district nurse numbers have halved in seven years. Ask any frontline doctor or nurse – things are getting worse and worse.

A society can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members. And we live in a time when there are tent villages of homeless people lining the streets, when formula milk is being watered down by people who can’t afford to feed their babies (I remember being shocked a few decades ago to hear of this happening in the developing world). A recent briefing report from Amnesty International highlights why we are more likely to die in the UK from diseases like cancer than in other countries such as Germany, France and Sweden. In 2015/2016, we spent 7.2% of UK GDP on health (under the new definition of health spending, the UK only spends 9.7% of its GDP on healthcare) in comparison with 11% or more GDP from these countries. The UK has fewer nurses and doctors relative to the population. The chancellor recently announced £650m as extra funding for social care in 2019/2020, of which only £240m is ring-fenced for adult social care. According to the King’s Fund, however, adult social care in England needs at least £1.5b more per year simply to cope with current demand.

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