Today we learn from a Healthcare Commission report that a quarter of women are being left to cope on their own when giving birth. A fifth of the women questioned said lavatories and bathrooms were dirty. Women were even complaining of not being fed enough, and that food was poor. One in five had contradictory advice about breastfeeding and got no practical assistance. The report blames staff shortages, with the Royal College of Midwives saying an extra 5,000 are needed to plug the gap.
We all know about the problem of superbugs in hospitals, but now it seems there are also serious concerns about the cleanliness of ambulances. I wonder how many of those women who gave birth recently were taken to hospital in a dirty ambulance? Unison, the union representing ambulance staff, says that inadequate cleaning arrangements and insufficient resources are adding to the problem. I am not surprised to hear the union say there has been little progress since they first raised the issue – two years ago. Like so many failures in this area, this is at the elementary level.
And what about care for the increasing number of elderly people with dementia? A report today by the Alzheimer’s Society calls for compulsory government-funded training for all staff in residential care homes. It says that underfunding of such care is ‘ludicrous’, given that proper help for sufferers could both decrease the need for costly drugs and bring down the number of hospital admissions caused by falls and other injuries. My enthusiasm for cutting unnecessary public spending is well-known, but assuming the conclusions of this report are correct, it seems the Treasury is making false economies in this area.
Since 1997, health spending has almost trebled (from £32.997 billion to £92.173 billion – a 2.8 fold increase). In spite of this largesse, we are still seeing cuts in services, staff numbers and beds. The NHS as a whole even finished the last financial year with a gross deficit of £911 million. Ten years on from 1997, it seems clear that, whether you look at it in terms of its treatment of mothers bringing new life into the world or its care for those coming towards the end of their lives, the way the NHS spends taxpayers’ money is in need of radical change.