Every year, around September, many – including Pulse – pronounce that this winter will be the worst yet, and would lead to services collapsing. In our October 2021 cover feature, we even made the point that this is now a common refrain.
And every year, the NHS comes out the other side, leading some commentators to claim that the NHS has coped fine – that NHS staff are the Boys Who Cried Wolf.
But let’s think about what this actually means. What is meant by health services ‘collapsing’ (or imploding, or anything similar)? What event can you conceive of that will demonstrate the ‘collapse’ of the NHS? Maybe in previous years, we might think of the armed forces getting involved, or having to open up makeshift hospitals, or ambulances queuing to get into A&E as indicative of a collapse of the NHS – all of which are happening now, and are accepted as part of normal life.
What does happen, however, is that patient care gets worse and staff get more burnt out. Our breaking news earlier revealed that, in one hospital, the indicative waits for suspected breast cancer referrals is now 40 days. Reports elsewhere suggest patients are waiting in A&E for 24 hours, and there are two-year waits for elective operations.
The effects are not obvious for those of us not affected directly, and they don’t make for a great 10pm news piece. Instead, it is patients who could have been treated in time deteriorating, care being rationed so you just need to learn to deal with your condition (or go private) or staff who are unable to cope having to go through the motions because there is no one else to provide care.
The fact that this is part of everyday life is a tragedy that is so long in the making that it no longer feels like a tragedy, and the general public becomes desensitised to the latest shocking headlines.
The worst part of this is there may be no rock bottom because patient outcomes can always get worse and the workforce can always get smaller and more demoralised.
Sadly, I can’t end this on a positive note. I can’t issue a call to arms to say ‘enough is enough’ because we have been saying this for years and even those of us saying it are getting bored of hearing it. Instead, we can wait until next autumn and warn that ‘this winter really will be the worst ever’. And you know what? We will be right.
Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter @jkaffash or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org