Hospital consultant attacks NHS

By Lisa CleverdonA LEADING hospital consultant has criticised the country's health system after a shortage of emergency beds forced him to abandon a vital operation.

By Lisa Cleverdon

A LEADING hospital consultant has criticised the country's health system after a shortage of emergency beds forced him to abandon a vital operation.

Dr John Urquhart said unrealistically high public expectations and unnecessary targets were to blame for a lack of adequate patient care at grassroots level.

Dr Urquhart, a consultant anaesthetist at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds, was speaking after one of his patients suffering from a severe heart condition had an operation postponed due to insufficient resources at its intensive care unit.

“We work for this colossal organisation and come up with the goods despite not always having the resources to do it. My greatest concern is when I want to follow a course of action and I am prevented from doing so,” he said.

“It is really difficult when you know you can do an extremely good anaesthetic and bring the patient through the operation safely, but to not have the back-up resources is heartbreaking.

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“This isn't typical, but this sort of thing does happen at times of high bed occupancy. On the continent it's accepted that a bed occupancy rate of 85% gives you the flexibility to accommodate fluctuations in demand.

“On occasions here, our rates are over 100% as some beds are used more than once in a day.”

Dr Urquhart felt one of the main problems was the Government had promoted the health service to the extent where patients expected a level of choice that was just not available.

“People's expectations of the health service are changing and evolving, but the trouble is that when the system fails to deliver, it is people like me who are on the receiving end of the patient's complaint,” he said.

“I feel that as a taxpayer myself, I have an interest in how my money is being spent. But I am very concerned that by chasing political targets we are distorting the fundamental clinical need of the patients.”

Although Dr Urquhart believed West Suffolk Hospital was one of the best in the area, he said Government targets meant staff were unable to give each patient the individual level of care they needed.

“Every case is different, but by setting all these political targets, the Government is effectively pigeonholing every person who is suffering from the same illness,” he added.

“It is all very well telling us that we must diagnose every cancer sufferer within two weeks, but every case needs to be judged on its own merits and surgeons are unable to make their own decisions anymore.”

But Dr Urquhart said the general level of morale among staff at the Bury St Edmunds hospital was high.

“It is a great place to work and these are not criticisms of the trust - our management is better than average - I direct that at our political masters. They say they are pouring money in, but we remain under-resourced.

“We are spending more on health care than we have ever done, but I do not understand how other states can spend the same sum of money and yet their waiting lists just don't exist.”

He added: “I do not have a magic wand that I can wave and make all our problems disappear and these are national problems faced by hospitals all over the country - not just ours.

“I think that people need to change the way they view the system and a great deal of what we have to deal with is also attributed to the behaviour of the patient, like those people who smoke, for example.

“Everyone who works here does so because they want to. It's for society to decide ultimately how much of our resources we are willing to spend on healthcare.

“We have trimmed all the margins we can, there just aren't any more cuts to be made.”

No-one from the Department of Health was available for comment last night.

lisa.cleverdon@eadt.co.uk

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