A UK health and social care watchdog has warned that the country’s healthcare system is on the brink of collapse, and that many patients – particularly the elderly – are going to hospital for emergencies when they should have been seen much earlier.
In his first major announcement since being appointed earlier this year, David Prior, head of the Care and Quality Commission (CQC) non-departmental public body, has called for an urgent investment in community care.
He also said that the number of emergency-care beds in hospitals should be scaled back in order to divert much-needed funds to other areas of the National Health Service (NHS). He voiced his concerns at a talk on Wednesday at the King's Fund, a think-tank that seeks to improve the health care system in England.
“If we don’t start closing acute beds, the system is going to fall over. Emergency admissions through Accident and Emergency (A&E) are out of control in large parts of the country. That is totally unsustainable,” Prior said.
He also slammed the decision to allow General Practitioners (GPs) – the name for family doctors in the UK – to opt out of out-of-hours care, advising that they should be on-call and available to patients around-the-clock. “Primary care is in bad shape. I think GPs ought to be responsible 24/7,” he said.
He also pointed out that there is no real market in the British healthcare system, especially in rural areas, leaving many patients at the mercy of their local hospital regardless of its quality.
“The patient or resident is the weakest voice in the system. It is classic market failure. We can talk about competition until the cows come home but if you live in Norwich there is one hospital,” said Prior, the former chairman of Norwich University Hospitals foundation trust.
His comments come amid a slew of scandals involving NHS care and worrying new research that revealed that 1 in 10 patients – about 1 million patients a year – suffers avoidable harm in NHS hospitals and care homes.
The Mid Staffordshire NHS trust is now in administration following reports of “appalling” care that led to the deaths of 400 patients between 2005 and 2008.