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NHS faces shortage of junior doctors, while questions about resource allocation arise

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By: Tanvi Ambulkar 

While wellness services may encourage patients to take charge of their own health, the provision of these services may not be suitable in a time when the NHS is facing a severe paucity of qualified labour.

The NHS, the primary health provider in the UK, has recently been facing challenges pertaining to the shortage of manpower. A report published recently claimed that only two junior doctors were allocated the responsibility of approximately 436 patients. This ratio is not only shocking; but it also has a direct impact on the quality of patient care and treatment.
The event above took place in the Derriford Hospital, which is situated in Plymouth and has hundreds of job vacancies for junior doctors. An overwhelming influx of patients not only places undue burden on the limited number of doctors, but it also constrains the care they can provide. One junior doctor stated that he was released from a breast surgery operation in order to compensate by doing a night shift.

A junior doctor who had worked over the weekend claimed that they were offered little respite and had only consumed a “couple of biscuits from the patient trolley.” Insufficient consumption of food may trigger a hypoglycemic state, which can elicit confusion and impair cognitive decisions made by the doctors.

Two reports had been previously filed regarding the working hours and schedules of the doctors at the Derriford Hospital. Despite these reports stipulating that there was an “immediate safety concern”, Derriford Hospital emphasises that it is committed to both the safety of their patients and staff. In the Plymouth Herald, the Derriford Hospital claims to maintain high safety standards through regular reviewing of employees and temporary hiring of individuals to ease the work burden on existing employees.

Phil Hughes, medical director of the Derriford Hospital, claims in their defence: “Like other trusts nationally, we do have difficulties recruiting to and filling our junior doctor posts and so, as our responsibility to ensure our junior doctors and the hours they work are safeguarded, we have had to explore other options, where we can.”

Reports sent to the board of Plymouth Hospitals NHS trust outlined the serious circumstances under which these two doctors had worked on a weekend shift. The doctors were stated to be “dangerously overworked”, which means that patients could be subjected to serious healthcare risks due to reduced medical attention.

The concerning aspect of these events is the fact that if the junior doctor shortage is not corrected imminently, such “unsafe” shifts can become routine practice. This poses a serious health risk to patients who entrust their care in the hands of healthcare professionals. However, it must be kept in mind that these events are an example in case of “exception reporting”, which means that these events are anomalies and do not reflect routine practice.

NHS aspired to expand into provision of luxury facilities

In a time where allocation of resources is very stringent, provision of facilities such as spa sessions and Zumba classes may not be ideal. While these arguably have beneficial effects on the patients – in the form of reduced stress and increased response to treatment – focus must be redirected towards recruitment of more doctors in order to achieve the greatest increase in quality patient care.

The “health campuses” are estimated to comprise of swimming pools, facials and aerobic classes. These facilities will run in parallel with other services provided by the hospital, such as MRI imaging and hip replacement surgeries. Critics claimed that these efforts were “farcical”, especially in the light of the fact that patients have reduced access, even to basic healthcare, due to long waiting lists and a shortage of qualified doctors.

The basis of these new changes is explained by Duncan Selbie, chief executive of the Public Health England. “Encouraging people to make changes to their lifestyles is by far the most sustainable way of achieving change and saving money in the long run,” he iterated. The aim of providing these services is to shift focus from treatment to prevention, and therefore reduce the number of potentially ill people in the long term.

However, other authorities have claimed serious objection to these services, especially in a time where the NHS is subjected to such immense financial constraints and large amounts of debt. Utilising taxpayer expenses for the purpose of attaining an improvement in general wellness may not be an ideal option for some individuals. Therefore, this choice needs to be seriously assessed in context of the current financial circumstances of the NHS, and the potential alternative uses of its financial resources. MIMS