Monthly article December 2019

written this month by John Graver

Although West Cornwall HealthWatch is  a completely non party-political organisation we would be failing in our duty if we did not give consideration to the effects that government policy has had  on health, specifically in the  far South West .

 We all are aware that the NHS has been starved of cash. The last few years have seen  the largest squeeze on its finances since its creation over 70 years ago. It is common knowledge that there are over 100,000 staff vacancies in the NHS, with nurse vacancies alone at 38000 and rising. In no small part due to the scrapping of nursing bursaries voted for by our MP in 2016. Despite this our fantastic staff  who work in the NHS and in Social Care continue to provide a service  far exceeding  the resources at their disposal. 

 We are not surprised  when the GP receptionist  can only give an appointment in  2 weeks’  time, and we take it for granted that we will have a four hour wait in A&E.  In October this year,   2199 patients spent over four hours  waiting in A&E Treliske,  far in excess of   the government’s target, which was  last met in 2015.    A new term of “corridor ward “ is now used as patients are  treated on trolleys waiting for  ward beds . Bed occupancy for Cornwall is over 90%,  above the national average. Meanwhile we have 14 good inpatients beds closed at  Edward Hain Hospital.   

We waited  and waited for the Green Paper as to how the last government was proposing to fix our social-care system. Official figures for August  highlight that patients fit to be discharged in Cornwall alone  occupied 34 beds each day due to lack of social care provision at home. All of the main party manifestos have been released, and  despite Mr Johnson  promising on the steps of number 10 “to fix the crisis in  Social Care once and for all”,  only the Conservative Party has failed, unlike all other parties,  to announce any long term strategy.  

Going behind  the headlines of  NHS cash shortages, crumbling NHS infrastructure  and constant reorganisation costing billions, there is a forgotten  demon.   Austerity has been the main plank of government financial control for a decade and  it cannot be disputed that austerity has had a disproportionate effect on the poor and  vulnerable. It can be argued  that  a decade of austerity has the greatest effect on children.   Society and its leaders should be  judged  on how  it treats its young.     

 A  recent report  by Shelter stated that over 100,000 children in England live in  housing with poor sanitation and cold, cramped  and damp  conditions. It highlights the risk of severe ill-health, and disability increases by up to 25% during childhood and early adulthood. It is accepted that Asthma,  Meningitis and mental health problems are  more prevalent in such conditions and this is  borne out by the dramatic rise in mental health problems amongst the young.   

In Cornwall (2015), 16% of children lived in poverty. The Child Poverty Act  2010 targeted eradication of  child poverty by 2020 with the poorest areas locally  being parts of  Penzance, Camborne and Redruth.   According to  Cornwall Council 60p has been cut in every pound of Government support for services since  2010.  Despite the Council’s greatest  efforts with dwindling resources it  confirms  that  the 2020  target is likely  to be missed by some  considerable margin.  

Austerity, deprivation and poor health are linked.  They affect the weakest and most vulnerable, with West Cornwall  being particularly hard hit, placing huge pressures on society and casting a shadow over our wellbeing.

Is there any wonder, then,   that the  NHS and social care systems are  under such strain ? We should   judge on  past actions  not future  promises.  Has Cornwall been failed by Westminster?   

You decide ..………………..