LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gathered government ministers, doctors and health managers at 10 Downing St. for talks on Saturday to address a health care crisis that has left thousands of patients stranded in front of overwhelmed hospitals.
The government said it was “bringing together the best minds from the health and care sectors to help share knowledge and practical solutions.”
The opposition Labor Party dismissed the meeting as “a place for conversation”, with experts warning there are no quick fixes to long-simmering problems at the state-funded NHS.
Britain’s healthcare system is facing a hell of a lot of pressure, including rising demand for care after pandemic restrictions were eased; an increase in the flu and other winter viruses after two years of confinement; and staff shortages from pandemic burnout and a post-Brexit drought of European workers in the UK
Thousands of hospital beds are occupied by people who are fit to be discharged but have nowhere to go due to a shortage of long-term care facilities. Official figures show that last week only a third of the patients who were ready to be discharged from a hospital in England left.
That has led to ambulances stuck outside hospitals with patients who cannot be admitted, and in turn, people with health emergencies waiting hours for ambulances to arrive. Health leaders say the delays have likely led to hundreds of deaths.
On top of that, a cost-of-living crisis fueled by rising food and energy bills has left some healthcare workers struggling to make ends meet. Nurses and ambulance crews have staged walkouts, part of the country’s biggest strike wave in decades.
The pressures have renewed a longstanding debate over how to finance and run the NHS, established in 1948 to provide free care to all, financed through taxation. As in other industrialized countries, longer life expectancies and an aging population have increased demand for this widely loved but constantly overburdened service. Britain’s NHS has long been a political hot potato. Opposition politicians accuse the Conservative Party, in power since 2010, of constantly underfunding the health service or trying to privatize it on the sly.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation umbrella health services body, said “this crisis has been a decade or more in the making.”
“High levels of influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, and rising levels of COVID are exacerbating the problem, but the cause is decades of underinvestment in staff, capital, and the lack of a long-term solution to capacity shortages. that faces social care,” he said. saying.
The government says that health financing continues to increase in real terms. He says public sector workers are being offered wage increases, but he cannot afford to hand out raises to match inflation, which hit 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 secure healthcare. French President Emmanuel Macron announced plans on Friday to reform France’s struggling healthcare system..