Mark Dolan: The NHS needs to go from being the national Covid service, to the national health service again

Can the NHS backlog ever be eliminated?

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The Mail on Sunday newspaper reports that a mother has been forced to take out a £10,000 loan to pay for a private hysterectomy, after being told she faced a two-year wait for the operation on the NHS.

Emma Jamieson suffered agonising pain as a result of endo-metriosis. Unable to bear the pain any longer, she made the decision to take out a £10,000 loan and used £3,000 donated by friends, to pay to have the operation privately. With a waiting list of 12 million people and growing, you will see a lot more of this in the months and years to come.

Given the overstretched nature of the NHS PRE-pandemic, it's hard to imagine that this enormous backlog will ever be eliminated. Notwithstanding the economic damage, perhaps the worst legacy of the lockdown measures will be diminished public health. Availability of treatment is already curtailed, but twinned with that, will be an inevitable decline in public confidence. A nagging doubt, as to whether the NHS will actually BE THERE for us when we need it.

If a new hip, a cataract operation or a hysterectomy are now considered non-URGENT, how many years might you be waiting for treatment, as you suffer in silence? And the millions who will be affected by a diminished health service, will continue to pay a large share of their income towards it through taxation. And it won’t get cheaper as it gets worse. And if the public can’t get treatment in a reasonable amount of time, they’ll want to know what exactly it is they are paying for.

Our bins get collected and we have police on the streets, but will the public willingly pay for a health service, they're not actually getting? With people digging into savings or even borrowing money to get private treatment, the NHS runs the risk of being the next BBC. A service people are forced to pay for, but in many cases don’t use.

Now the healthcare professionals in our NHS are the very best of us and we will never repay our gratitude for the hell they've been through in the last year and a half. But the management of the NHS is another story. The bonkers policy of sending asymptomatic doctors and nurses home every time they get the ping, is half the reason why the waiting lists have exploded. And clearing out wards and having socially distanced treatment doesn't seem to have made a blind bit of difference, with huge numbers of people picking up Covid in hospital.

The Guardian reports that almost 9,000 people died in hospital from Covid, whilst being treated for something else. So what was the point of a running a reduced service and keeping healthy staff at home? You can only assume that this madness has cost lives. And will cost lives, well into the future.

Just one example Dr Tony Hinton, retired NHS surgeon of 30 years told me in a previous interview that he knows of one anaesthetist, who was pinged by the app and was ordered by an NHS manager to go home, even though he'd had Covid and had been double jabbed twice. How many operations didn’t happen as a result?

Now I'm not saying that anybody symptomatically ill with Covid should go to work, of course not. But given the enormous medical emergency that we now face, not from Covid, but from multiple other far worse illnesses like cancer, surely it should be all hands on deck. And let's be clear, if you are suffering with an ailment, there is no such thing as non urgent treatment. If you're getting migraines or back pain, if you've got a non-malignant tumour, depression, if your heart is beating irregularly, if your asthma is flaring up, that sounds pretty urgent to me.

So what IS urgent is the need for the NHS to go from being the national Covid service, to the national health service again. And it needs to prevent illness, not expensively medicate against it. Why does the NHS spend tens of billions treating largely lifestyle related illnesses like Type 2 diabetes, rather than look to prevention. Dr David Unwin, NHS GP, told me on this program that he has reversed the diabetes of hundreds of patients. Why isn't this the norm?

Obesity is the single biggest threat to this country’s health and makes Covid look like a minor sniffle by comparison. Obesity is linked to every ailment you can think of, including heart disease, dementia, kidney problems, poor mental health, joint damage, and cancer. And obesity has exposed us to the very worst Covid had to offer. So what's the latest strategy to encourage young people to have the vaccine? Free McDonald's. You couldn't make it up. The staff in the NHS are the best in the world, but the organisation is on life support. The NHS itself, needs urgent treatment and if that doesn’t happen, public confidence in it will die.

So, where is the political opposition coming from at the moment? Sir Keir Starmer and the Labour Party? No such luck. Pressure on number 10 is coming from next door at number 11. The Chancellor Rishi Sunak is urging Boris Johnson to scrap Covid travel restrictions and save summer holidays this year, warning that border rules are wrecking the UK economy, squandering Britain's vaccine advantage and are stricter than our European rivals. Mr Sunak has written to the Prime Minister calling on him to dump the draconian curbs, amid mounting concerns that current UK border rules are damaging the country's fragile economy, particularly its already-devastated tourism and hospitality sectors. And of course he's absolutely right.

One glaring fact that has been ignored in the course of this pandemic, is that if you want to save lives, your greatest priority is to protect the economy. Well we have done the opposite. We have smashed it into a brick wall. And still, with the vast majority of adults now protected, with nationwide immunity through the roof and with cases down again, we continue to have measures which are costing billions of pounds a week. And of COURSE the Chancellor is worried, because he's seen the books. And he knows that this cash party, has got to stop. No country that made itself poorer, ever improved the health of its population. Which is why the economy right now, and in any future pandemic, must be the government’s first priority.

Save the economy, save lives.

Getting Britain back on the path to recovery and a fostering a strong economic rebound, is the only way we are going to pay the colossal post-pandemic bill that awaits us.