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Politics Amp Policy
Every bed occupied in Tooting A&E
From the Financial Times of Tue, 23 Dec 2014 16:45:55 GMT

It is a December weekend afternoon in one of London’s biggest accident and emergency departments and every available bed is occupied.

Phil Moss, clinical director for the emergency department and acute medicine at St George’s Hospital, Tooting, says his staff are coping “remarkably”. Yet the situation is already the most difficult he has seen in five years. This time last year around 370 patients a day were being seen in the emergency department; the figure has now risen to 400, he says.

Winter has long been a testing time for politicians. Almost exactly 15 years ago, Tony Blair suddenly pledged to raise NHS spending to the level of the European average, amid a flu epidemic that strained the system to its limit.

As battle lines are drawn for Britain’s least predictable election in decades, the government is once again at the mercy of the microbes.

Health is an issue on which Labour enjoys one of its few really solid poll leads over the Conservatives. A wave of norovirus or influenza, especially if combined with Arctic temperatures, could threaten a high-profile system breakdown, entrenching the notion that the NHS would benefit from new political management.

While George Osborne’s announcement of a further £2bn a year from 2015 promises the NHS some breathing room, it will come too late to help it through the testing months ahead.

Anita Charlesworth, a former Treasury official who is chief economist at the Health Foundation think-tank, believes the NHS is facing a winter crisis on a different scale to those that have gone before.

She points to data that show that, just six months into the financial year, four out of five trust hospitals are now facing substantial deficits — a proportion that cannot be explained away as the product of isolated instances of poor management. The red ink on hospital balance sheets represents “a much harder thing to fix: a generalised, system-wide loss of grip on the money”, she argues.

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