Hospitals are so short of doctors and nurses that patient safety and quality of care are threatened, senior NHS leaders have warned of a dramatic intervention in the general election campaign
Nine out of ten hospital managers in England fear that under-staffing in the service has become so severe that the patient's health can be damaged. In addition, almost six out of 10 (58%) believe this winter will be the toughest than for the service.
The views expressed by senior NHS figures on Tuesday will increase the anxiety in the Conservative ranks that the health care's growing problems risk tracking the party's campaign in an election that its members hoped would be dominated by Brexit.
The Labor Party is trying to exploit public dissatisfaction with delays in access to treatment and the increasingly visible gaps in staffing.
In a further sign of Tory concerns, ministers have agreed on an extraordinary deal for the NHS to pay doctors' pension tax rules this year, which could cost hundreds of millions of pounds.
The system aims to stop the sharp increase in recent times by doctors working fewer shifts to avoid being hit by unexpected tax bills of up to £ 100,000. The trend has forced hospitals to cancel thousands of operating lists and outpatient clinics while further delaying patients' access to care and exacerbating staff shortages.
Ministers hope doctors in England – the only country to which the incentive will apply – will see it as a green light to resume extra shifts before winter pressure rises on the NHS, without having to worry that they will be severely punished months later.
The deal, however, immediately triggered allegations that it was agreed between ministers and NHS England in violation of "purdah" rules which stipulate that governments may not make political changes during an election campaign.
It is presented as an "operational decision" by NHS England, but was signed by – and some believe initiated – by the Treasury, Cabinet Office and the Department of Health and Social Care.
An older medical source involved in brokering the never-before-seen "stopgap" policy suggested it came about because ministers were "desperate" to avoid fewer shifts from doctors putting together hospital battles this winter.
The source said: “They have such a massive violation of the purdah ordinances that it is incredible. This is not an operational issue. This is policy. This is upsetting, because the purdah rules say you cannot notify a political change during an election. "
The 131 managers, chairmen and directors of the NHS Trust in England expressed their serious concern over the deteriorating condition in a survey conducted by the NHS Confederation.
The results came a few days after the latest official figures showed that the hospital's results against important waiting times for A&E care, cancer treatment and planned surgeries had dropped to its worst level ever. However, many service managers told the Confederation that delays will be even longer when the cold weather creates extra care needs.
"There is real concern among NHS leaders as winter approaches and this year looks particularly challenging," said Niall Dickson, CEO of the Confederation, which represents most NHS bodies, including hospital trusts, in England.
“Health leaders are deeply concerned about its ability to manage demand, despite the fact that front staff are treating more patients than ever.
"There are very real opportunities for gaps in clinical change and patients who do not get the quality of care they need because NHS trust does not have the staff they need."
"Although they did everything in their power, 90% of the health care leaders we surveyed said that understaffing puts patients at risk.
“We have 100,000 clinical vacancies [in England] and the prospect of ever-increasing demand if we do not meet the scope of the challenge, ”added Dickson.
Last week's figures showed that one in four people who go to a hospital-based A&E wait more than four hours to be managed, record numbers have to wait for a trolley while finding a bed and seven of the eight clinically vital cancer treatment targets are missed.
Dickson added that even if the next government gave more money to deal with widespread staff shortages, it would take time to reduce the high vacancy rates that are common in many hospitals. The NHS has almost 43,000 nurses and almost 10,000 doctors and healthcare professionals.
He warned political parties not to raise voter expectations unreasonably on the occasion of the December 12 general election on how quickly the NHS can get back on track.
"More investment is needed but even with this, it is a system that takes time to turn around and voters must not be fed with over-promises in the coming weeks," he said.
King's Fund expressed concern over the results of the research. "In the midst of political rhetoric in the general election campaign, these findings underscore the stark reality that patients across the country are facing and are struggling to access NHS services," said Sally Warren, the tunnel chief's police chief.
“Labor shortages already have a direct impact on the quality of people's care, with national patient surveys repeatedly highlighting difficulties for patients gaining access to NHS services and performance against key waiting times targets that have been worst for over a decade.
"These NHS leaders are right – without urgent action, patient safety is at risk."
The Confederation's survey of 131 hospital managers also found that:
76% say staff shortages are the NHS's most pressing problem.
83% say the dispute over older doctors' pensions is making the underage even worse.
69% say that doctors decide to work fewer hours harming patient care.
98% say the deepening crisis in the social care system means that more elderly people need hospital care.