Supply and Demand
These are difficult times for the National Health Service. Emergency services throughout the Midlands and beyond have been inundated with calls for help from people suffering severe bouts of influenza while pressure to cut waiting lists has skewed most h ospital priorities.
At the same time, a chronic shortage of skilled nurses has exacerbated these difficulties.
Yesterday Health Secretary Mr Frank Dobson hailed as a triumph the latest drop in hospital waiting lists - the largest fall on record - yet he still has to accept that the lists are longer than they were when Labour came to office.
Mr Dobson has also been forced to acknowledge that the apparently unprecedented demand for hospital beds this winter will make it almost certain that waiting lists will either start to lengthen again or, at best, the rate of reduction will slow down cons iderably. Either way, it makes Labour's promise to tackle hospital waiting lists look a little like wishful-thinking.
One of Mr Dobson's boasts yesterday was that the NHS was treating more emergency and non-emergency cases than ever before "and more patients are being seen than ever before". This is the dilemma. The demand for NHS services seems to rise inexorably even though, as a nation, we are almost certainly fitter and more healthy than we have ever been. The number of 999 calls being made for or by people with influenza demonstrates the problem very well.
In the past, people would not have bothered their local GP let alone their local hospital if they came down with flu. They would simply wrap up warm and go to bed. …