Prime Minister Blair has, we are told, taken personal charge of the Health Service. Not quite enough charge to personally face the nurses, of course but enough charge to be held responsible for the financial shambles that the "Nation’s Nanny", Patricia Hewitt, has allowed to evolve.
So perhaps Mr. Blair would like to come to East Kent and to visit Fordwich Ward at the QEQM hospital in Margate. He will find that it is shut.
This has not been the "best year ever" for our Accident and Emergency Services.
I met, recently, with an A&E Registrar from one of the County's major hospitals. He confirmed my understanding that about 80% of the patients that visit A&E have no need of those services whatsoever and can and should be seen in casualty units, cottage hospitals or, in most cases, by General Practitioners.
Setting aside the after-school "morning after pill" sessions when, apparently, schoolgirls find it convenient to use A&E units as convenient and inconspicuous birth control clinics, many callers are either from overseas and with no culture of the use of General Practice or, more significantly, patients who choose not to wait days for GP appointments or to use the on-call services.
There is, though, a darker side still to A&E known as the "Four-hour breach".
Under Government "targets" A&E patients are required to be seen within four hours and any "breach" of this timescale has to be reported. Young Senior House Officers, frightened to stand up to the system and relatively inexperienced are prone to make bad decisions in haste. The more senior Registrars find themselves having to rush or offer inadequate treatment in order to avoid the "breach.
The way round this is, it seems, is to dispatch patients to wards without appropriate tests having been taken and it is not uncommon for a ward Sister to receive a phone call saying "we are about to breach - will you take this patient within the next 20 minutes". The half-way measure is to transfer the patient to a CDU unit within the four hours. In this way, technically, they have left A&E even though there is much work still to be done and a logjam further down the line.
All of this information has been given to me by NHS nursing and medical staff who have had enough and are concerned to speak out before patient-care is further compromised.
Is any Minister out there listening?