The NHS is heading for a crisis if staffing and funding levels and patient demand are not better balanced, Wigan’s hospital boss has said.
Andrew Foster, the chief executive of Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust, joined other health chiefs in taking the unusual step of speaking out on social media about the challenges in the sector.
He has now bluntly told Government ministers the NHS is being under-funded compared to other countries.
Mr Foster also said the service will struggle to cope with a hard winter.
However, he was full of praise for NHS employees.
In a series of Twitter posts Mr Foster and fellow hospital bosses said it was extremely frustrating to see years of progress in the NHS being undermined by the squeeze in money and personnel.
He also warned the situation was only going to get worse, with patients expecting more of the health service and investment desperately needed from the Government.
Mr Foster said: “The two main issues are about the levels of funding and staffing compared to increasing demand from our patients. The balance is getting worse all the time.
“The level of funding has been flat so we’ve got exactly the same amount of money but the cost of services is going up and demand has gone up quite dramatically.
“We can’t get the medical and nursing staff we need now. The shortage is partly because there haven’t been enough nurses and doctors trained and the number going through training has reduced as a result of the financial crisis a few years ago.
“In addition there’s a substantial increase in workload which is causing more staff to retire early or even go into other options.
“Performance is declining because of this. For several years we were very pleased to meet the Government’s target of getting 95 per cent of patients through A&E in four hours.
“We were the only hospital in Greater Manchester to do that for three years, until last year and this year.”
Mr Foster paid tribute to the NHS staff in the borough, who he said were working incredibly hard despite the challenging circumstances.
He said: “Every minute of every day in an emergency care environment is very hard work, especially when you are short staffed.
“NHS staff are so committed many stay well beyond the time they are due to finish and come in at very short notice if we’ve got a gap in the rota.
“There’s a huge amount of goodwill towards the NHS but it’s getting absolutely exhausted. When I look at the prospect for this winter, which is always more difficult anyway, there are a lot of risks ahead, especially if we get an outbreak of flu.
“Quite simply, the risk is that people will just have to wait longer in A&E, wait longer to get a bed and have staff looking after them who will be more and more tired.”
With that in mind Mr Foster stressed again that residents should only visit A&E in the coldest months if absolutely necessary.
He said: “It is for accidents and emergencies, not for people who should be seeing their GP.”
Mr Foster also had a strong message for ministers, saying that the country simply had to be prepared to put more money in if it wanted a truly world-class health system.
He said: “If you want a health service that can compare with countries like Germany and France and others in western Europe you’ve got to have a comparable level of funding.
“There’s an expectation that the NHS should increase its productivity and that has been the case ever since austerity.
“This is the seventh year of that in the NHS and in each of those years we’ve had to make efficiency savings of about five per cent.
“We’ve just about managed it but in a service delivered predominantly by people you can only go on making savings for so long and then you get to the point where you are cutting staffing levels.”