Some records are not for breaking - Rhun ap Iorwerth
Plaid Cymru's Health spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth, writes for the Western Mail
This month William Shatner broke a record for being the oldest person in space. The actor – famous for playing Captain James T Kirk in the TV series Star Trek – said, upon touchdown “I hope I never recover from this.”
For many, this was a fitting world record, given that Shatner spent decades of his life acting out fictional scenes in space. That he got to experience this in real life must have been a dream come true – no wonder he hoped he’d never “recover”!
Meanwhile, closer to home, other, more sobering records were being set: NHS Wales waiting lists are the longest they’ve ever been, A&E waiting times the worst on record, and Wales had the highest number of positive coronavirus tests taken in a single day on 18 October.
Unlike the sentiment expressed by Mr Shatner, we hope this is one record from which the NHS will recover.
But what is being done about it?
Although the Welsh Government’s long-anticipated winter plan was published on 21st October, on the same day, seventeen royal colleges and faculties published a joint statement calling for national action on a number of key issues.
Specifically, these medical organisations – who represent the workforce – were calling on Welsh government to “implement a national recruitment, retention and staff recovery plan, tackle avoidable illness with a cross-government strategy on health inequalities, and reduce the impact of the NHS backlog on patient safety and medical education.”
That the joint statement was issued on the same day the winter plan was announced doesn’t inspire much confidence in the plan itself, but what’s important to remember is that this was immediately preceded by two very damning reports on two Welsh health boards.
A report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), leaked to the BBC, describes “chronic understaffing and excessive workloads” in Aneurin Bevan health board, which were causing harm to patients, and making staff not want to come to work.
A second report by the RCP, leaked to ITV, describes staff at Wrexham Maelor as the “unhappiest” – citing staff shortages as one of the factors.
When there are staff shortages, is it any wonder that patients are having to wait longer for ambulances, appointments and treatment? The number of patients waiting to start treatment is at the highest it has ever been, reaching nearly 660,000 by the end of August 2021. There were more calls to the ambulance service in September 2021 than any other September on record, and 3 in 4 young people are having to wait more than a month for their first mental health appointment.
This is also set in the context of a pandemic. While the vaccination has done much to reduce the harm from the virus and the need for hospitalisation, it hasn’t broken the link completely. Therefore, the more COVID infections there are, it stands to reason the more people will be hospitalised with COVID. Last week also saw the dubious record of the most positive tests being taken on one day.
All the key factors in creating the record that the NHS never wanted to break.
If these pressures weren’t ‘enough’ then the additional pressure on the NHS will come, as it always does, from winter. Cold conditions exacerbate respiratory conditions, icy roads cause more slips and trips, and viruses thrive.
And let’s not forget our hard-working health and care staff. No one is under more pressure because of the situation than those who’ve given everything over the past year and a half, and who deserve to be supported now, more than ever.
This is why the winter plan from the Welsh Government is so vital this year - it’s not yet winter and pressure is already far beyond what could be considered to be sustainable.
Those organisations who represent the workforce are right to call it a crisis: Last week represented a particular low point for our NHS, and the fears are this will only get worse unless decisive action is taken.
This is why we need to see early signs that the winter plan announced last week is leading to improvements. And if it does not, Welsh Government must listen to what the experts are calling for and be prepared to step up their support.
As William Shatner surely hopes that no-one else beats his record, we all hope that last week’s NHS record isnagain broken next month.