Health check: Do our NHS services in Stevenage and North Herts fit the gloomy picture portrayed in the national media?

Lister Hospital: Pic: Danny Loo.

Lister Hospital: Pic: Danny Loo. - Credit: Archant

We’re so used to seeing negative headlines about the NHS splashed across newspapers and the internet that it’s easy just to accept our health service is in crisis.

Recent BBC headline on the state of the NHS. Pic: BBC

Recent BBC headline on the state of the NHS. Pic: BBC - Credit: Archant

Bed blocking, cancelled operations, long waits for surgery, botched procedures. These tags appear almost daily in the national media.

But these stories often take a one-size-fits-all approach, using one headline set of data to apply to health services right across the UK.

I wanted to dig down into the data and find out just how good – or bad – our local health services really are.

In fact, North Hertfordshire’s hospital services are generally performing much more effectively than the gloomy picture that has been reported once again in the national media in recent weeks.

The new QE2. Pic: Danny Loo.

The new QE2. Pic: Danny Loo. - Credit: Archant

For starters, people in North Hertfordshire are generally waiting much less than the NHS headline target of 18 weeks for surgery and hospital treatment.

The NHS sets a clear target that 92 per cent of all procedures must be started within 18 weeks of referral from a GP.

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The East and North Herts NHS Trust, which runs Stevenage’s Lister Hospital and the New QEII Hospital in Welwyn Garden City, has met the 92 per cent target for nine of the previous 12 months to July 2017 and only narrowly missed it in December 2016 (91.3 per cent), January 2017 (91.5 per cent) and May 2017 (90.49 percent). In every other month it narrowly exceeded the target.

This bucks the national trend which shows that since June last year there has been an increase of more than 21 per cent in the numbers of people waiting longer than 18 weeks for treatment. There is still clearly room for improvement, of course.

Another key NHS indicator which has led to hospitals being berated by the national press is delayed transfers of care. This is the numbers of bed days lost caring for patients who have recovered but cannot be discharged because no further care is available for them – or because their families have yet to make a decision about where they should go.

In June this year our NHS trust lost 506 days to delayed transfers – 261 of these were because patients were waiting for further non-acute care under the NHS while 182 were lost because families had yet to make a choice on the future care of their relatives. There were 94 NHS trusts in the UK which lost fewer days, but 132 lost more days. Put simply, we are performing well above average.

Many health trusts have lost days numbering in the thousands – with the worst in June being Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust with a staggering 4,950.

East and North Herts is also doing reasonably well in having to cancel relatively few elective operations for operational rather than clinical reasons.

In the last quarter year it cancelled 129 operations – 62 NHS trusts cancelled more operations and 102 cancelled less. The worst figure was the 591 cancelled by United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust.

Our NHS trust is however missing its key target of treating emergency room patients within four hours of them arriving at hospital.

Over the past year it’s treated between 82 per cent and 89 per cent of patients within the four hours, but never got near the 100 per cent target.

In the first quarter of 2017, 49 trusts performed worse than ours and 177 performed better. This is clearly one area that needs some work.

So the message from these key indicators is that your NHS services are facing significant challenges, but they doing OK – and the picture is nowhere near as bleak in North Herts as the national media might like to portray.

We by no means have the best and most efficient health services in the UK, but we by no means have anywhere near the worst. When you also take into account the relatively high levels of population in the North Herts area compared to that in some areas of the UK, the picture is perhaps even brighter.

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