I am currently writing this from my sick bed, having been knocked out by a cold, the like of which I’ve never had before. GPs I’ve spoken to have said that they’ve had it themselves, or are having to convince disbelieving patients that the illness keeping them in bed for two weeks is just a cold.
This was the first point in our cover feature about the coming winter, and why (after many previous similar claims) this could actually be the worst winter ever for the NHS. Yet it is only the beginning of October.
A resurgence of non-Covid illnesses was always going to happen in the first winter without restrictions (and whether we should have removed restrictions yet is another issue entirely).
There is only so much the Government and the NHS can do to prepare for a particularly nasty winter. An extensive flu vaccination campaign – which they have GPs to thank for – is sensible. There is winter funding, but this can’t be seen as a silver bullet – after all, you can’t pop to the shop and buy a load of GPs, nurses and consultants.
There are things that can be done though. First, an extensive public health campaign to both minimise risks with messages around infection control and to ensure that patients use the NHS appropriately.
Second, remove the pointless bureaucracy for GPs, just like they did at the start of the pandemic – QOF, CQC inspections, appraisals and revalidation etc. Preferably for good, but at least for the winter.
Finally, and most importantly, try to raise staff morale. On this, they are failing badly. The failure to defend GPs – and even stoke the animosity towards them – is unforgivable. Added to the pathetic pay rise for NHS staff, they are antagonising the very people they need to rely on. The worst wartime leaders might send their troops out with shoddy equipment, but even they wouldn’t be telling the public that their soldiers were lazy.
There is much this winter than health leaders can’t control. But they do need to improve on the things they can.
Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter @jkaffash or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.