UK leader convenes crisis meeting over struggling health system – Times of India


LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Saturday convened government ministers, medics and health services managers at 10 Downing St. for talks aimed at resolving a healthcare crisis that has left thousands of patients stranded outside overcrowded hospitals.
The government said it “brought together the best minds from the health and care sector to help share knowledge and practical solutions.”
The opposition Labor Party dismissed the meeting as “a talking barrack”, and experts warned there is no quick fix for long-standing problems in the state-funded National Health Service.
The UK health system is under significant pressure, including rising demand for care after pandemic restrictions are eased; a flurry of flu and other winter viruses after two years of lockdown; and staff shortages due to pandemic burnout and a post-Brexit drought of European workers in the UK
Thousands of hospital beds are occupied by people who can be discharged but have nowhere to go due to a lack of long-term care places. Official figures show that last week only a third of patients who were ready to be discharged from a hospital in England actually left.
That has left ambulances stranded outside hospitals with patients who cannot be admitted, and people with health emergencies waiting for hours for ambulances. Health chiefs say the delays likely led to hundreds of deaths.
In addition, a cost-of-living crisis fueled by rising food and utility bills has left some healthcare workers struggling to make ends meet. Nurses and paramedics have staged strikes, part of the country’s largest wave of strikes in decades.
The pressure has revived a long-running debate over the funding and management of the NHS, which was set up in 1948 to provide free care for all, funded through taxes. As in other industrialized countries, higher life expectancy and an aging population have increased demand for the widely loved but perpetually overburdened service. The British NHS has long been a politically controversial issue. Opposition politicians accuse the Conservative Party, in power since 2010, of consistently underfunding or secretly attempting to privatize healthcare.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the overarching healthcare body, the NHS Confederation, said “this crisis has been more than a decade in the making”.
“High levels of flu, respiratory syncytial virus and rising COVID levels exacerbate the problem, but the root cause is decades of underinvestment in staff, capital and the lack of a long-term solution to the capacity crisis facing social care,” he said.
The government says healthcare funding continues to rise in real terms. It says public sector workers are being offered pay raises but cannot afford to hand out raises to match inflation, which reached 11.1% in October.
Health union leaders will meet the government on Monday in a bid to end the strikes.
Britain is not the only country in Europe struggling to ensure healthcare. French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday announced plans to overhaul France’s struggling health system.

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