What are the Key NHS Issues that Victoria Atkins Must Address?

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What are the Key NHS Issues that Victoria Atkins Must Address?

On November 13th 2023, Victoria Atkins succeeded Steve Barclay as the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. At JMW Solicitors, we view Ms Atkins’s appointment as an opportunity for the Department of Health and Social Care to renew its commitment to delivering the highest standards of care. That means tackling the pressing issues within the NHS that demand the most immediate attention.

With our extensive experience in medical negligence, our team has a frontline view of the most common care failings undermining the NHS, and this has given us a prime opportunity to identify the key areas where we feel that urgent action is most sorely needed. We hope that these priorities will be embraced by Ms Atkins as health secretary, as they not only reflect the current challenges faced by patients and healthcare providers, but also offer a roadmap for meaningful improvements in the UK's healthcare system.

1. Revamping Maternity Services

The current state of maternity services in the UK is alarming. Tragically, we continue to see a significant number of babies dying needlessly or suffering permanent injuries due to failures in care.

According to statistics compiled by the Maternity Safety Alliance, overall stillbirth and neonatal death rates have increased in England over the last few years, with more maternity units failing to reach minimum standards, and the number of mothers dying during pregnancy or in the weeks following birth also on the rise. This represents a deeply troubling and unacceptable deterioration in the standard of maternity care.

As such, JMW is strongly supporting the Maternity Safety Alliance’s calls for a national public inquiry on maternity safety, in order to investigate the root causes of these issues and deliver the safety initiatives and investments that are needed. We call on Ms Atkins to take up this cause, because enhancing the quality of care in maternity wards is not just about preventing tragedies; it's about safeguarding the future of our society.

2. Addressing Surgery Waiting Lists

The pandemic has exacerbated the already lengthy waiting lists for routine surgeries. Patients are often left in limbo, with their conditions deteriorating while they wait for their turn. In many cases, these delays have led to conditions worsening to the point where they become inoperable.

NHS England data released in October 2023 shows that NHS waiting lists are currently at a record high, with 7.75 million people waiting for NHS treatment at the end of August, up from 7.68 million in July. This is the highest number since records began in August 2007.

 JMW witnesses the consequences of these delays regularly, and it's clear that tackling this issue should be a top priority for the new health secretary.

3. Improving Care for Spinal Injury Patients

Spinal injuries require specialised care, and JMW has represented hundreds of individuals with spinal cord injuries who are simply not receiving the quality of care that they need and deserve.

Angharad Hughes, a partner with JMW’s clinical negligence team, has observed a sharp deterioration in the standard of followup care for those with spinal injuries. Because the damage done by these injuries is often permanent, patients require immediate care to help them manage their new symptoms. Unfortunately, at the moment, many are struggling with a lack of basic referrals for followup services like urology, bowel care, rehabilitation, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. If such referrals do occur, it is often months after the initial surgery - much longer than it used to be.

Additionally, delays in referrals between hospitals and local specialist surgical centres are becoming increasingly common. This issue often stems from a lack of ambulance provision, which leads to delayed emergency surgeries. Addressing this bottleneck is crucial for improving outcomes for spinal injury patients, and ensuring timely access to necessary medical interventions.

4. Tackling Ambulance Delays

Ambulance delays are a growing concern, affecting emergency care across the country. In some parts of the country, waiting times for ambulance services reached their worst ever level towards the end of 2022, with some people having to wait 12 hours or more.

According to analysis by The Health Foundation, there are a number of reasons why these delays have been getting progressively worse, including rising demand for ambulances, growing sickness absence among overworked paramedics, and handover delays that mean ambulances are having to wait longer with patients outside hospitals.

It's imperative that Ms Atkins addresses this issue head-on as health secretary, by implementing strategies to reduce wait times and improve the efficiency of ambulance services.

A Time for Action

The challenges facing the NHS are complex and multifaceted, but with focused attention and strategic action, significant improvements can be made. As health secretary, Victoria Atkins has an opportunity to make a lasting impact on the UK's healthcare system. By prioritising these key areas, she can help ensure that all patients receive the timely, high-quality care they deserve.

JMW remains committed to advocating for patients' rights, and will closely monitor the progress made in these critical areas.

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