Luke Pollard with a paramedic and a student paramedic on their shift
Luke Pollard with a paramedic and a student paramedic on their shift

Our doctors, nurses and health staff risked their lives to care for Covid Patients. Now it’s our health service itself that needs emergency surgery, after a decade of austerity and the pandemic- and I saw that for myself as I joined an ambulance shift at Derriford Hospital.

For reasons of patient confidentiality, I can’t tell  you about any of the people they treated, but I can tell you I only witnessed professionalism and compassion that made me even prouder of the NHS. The two ambulance-crew – a paramedic and a student paramedic – were like every crew on that night: trained, dedicated, equipped and eager.

Derriford’s Emergency Department is full. In each ambulance is a person who should be in a hospital bed, and a crew who should be moving on to their next call. But at times they are forced to wait for hours.

The queue of ambulances is now so severe that Derriford has opened a second car park for them outside the Emergency Department. That should make every health minister ashamed – and this isn’t unique – 16,500 people a month in England are now forced to wait twelve hours or more for hospital admission.

My time with the ambulance and nights shadowing staff at Derriford has shown me that there’s three things we need to do to repair the broken healthcare system.

First, we need to fix the GP crisis. It means people don’t get proper preventative care, so they are forced to wait until the problem cannot be ignored any longer – which often means calling 999. The same is true of dental care in our city, with far too many people ending up in Derriford for emergency dentistry.

Secondly, we need to fix social care. On the night I shadowed the paramedics there was nearly 150 patients medically fit to be discharged from Derriford but with nowhere safe for them to go. If they could be transferred to proper care settings, we could slash ambulance waiting times. To make this possible, we need a new national drive to recruit and. importantly, retain care staff.

Finally, Plymouth needs a hospital with proper capacity. Derriford’s new Emergency Department – backed by all our city’s MPs – will help. But the rest of the hospital is full. We were promised a complete rebuild by Ministers, but that was a lie – just as the promise of 40 new hospitals was. A fresh paint job doesn’t equal a new hospital.

Families deserve the security of knowing the NHS will be there when they need it. And NHS staff deserve a government that’s on their side. It’s time to rebuild our NHS, pay staff a decent wage and fix the health and social care crisis. If we do that, the Plymouth-  and our brilliant NHS staff – will get the service they deserve.

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