Flu epidemics have a history of stretching resources in the NHS and social care.
Dr Kailash Chand OBE is the former deputy chair of the BMA council and honorary vice president of the BMA, is warning that another is on the way.
Clearly a man of knowledge and influence he writes in a personal capacity in The Guardian, saying the NHS is not prepared for it.
In an attention-grabbing words he writes: “The situation in England is very critical – the NHS is not equipped to cope with any serious flu epidemic.
“The NHS is under tremendous pressure, as is now widely acknowledged.
“As social services for home helps and other care funding has fallen by 11 per cent in five years, this has resulted in serious bed blocking, with more than 2,500 hospital beds a day taken up by patients whose release has been delayed due to problems in the social care system.”
The facts are scary: The number of yearly visits to A&E departments of all types of presentations increased by 9 million between 2000/01 and 2015/16.
“The Royal College of Emergency Medicine says hospitals must more than double current number of consultants to ensure safe care,” he adds.
But here’s the real immediate problem that he outlines: “NHS England has promised to free up between 2,000 and 3,000 extra beds to help avoid a repeat of last year’s struggles – but where are the nurses and doctors to cope with this pressure?”
The message is clear, whatever comes this winter in the way of bugs and viruses, there will be increased pressure on social care to help solve the NHS problem.
Quite rightly, Dr Chand points out that if an elderly individual contracts the virus, it can be more dangerous and debilitating – hence a hospital admission may be necessary; adding: “But social care intervention may be needed to help them return home. If there’s no funding or services available, their hospital discharge will be delayed.”
Are we prepared? Not according to this doctor.
How social care can throw a lifeline to health puzzles me. Years of austerity driven by successive governments, the failure of politicians to grasp the nettle of funding social care, the ‘deaf ears’ in the corridors of Whitehall, the collapse of many care businesses and a national shrinking pool of resources – the result of underfunding, poorly funded local authorities unable to pay the real rate for our services, and monies assigned to our sector apparently diverted to health.
Dr Chand concludes: “With the historical funding problems worsening in the last decade, a crisis in retention and recruitment, increasing demand, and collapse of social care in many places, I cannot be optimistic that the looming crisis can be averted by the measures announced.
“It seems to me that we need an injection of extra resources, not just a vaccine against the flu virus.”
Note: West Midlands Care Association is in regular dialogue with health trusts over winter beds capacity. We’re doing our very best to help.