PUBLISHED: 06:44 27 December 2017 | UPDATED: 06:44 27 December 2017
It was no surprise to most people that when the snap general election was called earlier this year, health and social care was of second most importance only beaten by the all-encompassing Brexit tussle.
Health issues are everyone’s issues, and in Norfolk and Waveney with an aging population this could not be more true.
Until I took over the health correspondent role in March, I hadn’t appreciated the sprawling nature of the NHS.
This has become more apparent as there has been more noise about the region’s sustainability and transformation plan (STP) which needs to save £300m from the region’s NHS by 2021 but also has the brief of ensuring different organisations work more closely together – not a small feat.
There is frustration over this plan. It was launched in 2016 but very little has emerged about just how money is going to be saved.
Health bosses say this is because we will not be shutting units or making redundancies – which of course is good news – but some clarity on exactly where these savings are then going to be made would be welcomed.
This was made clear at consultation events by both patients but staff, who seemingly have not been involved in making plans.
That said, better cooperation and joined up thinking should be welcomed – it is madness that our health system is not as integrated as it should be, hopefully the STP can go some way to fixing that. There is no doubt we cannot continue the way we are.
There was bad news for mental health in the region when Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust was put back into special measures.
Many were disappointed but not surprised in the outcome, especially those who have been campaigning for better care in the two counties.
There was more dismay when two private mental health hospitals – Mundesley and Huntercombe – shut down in our area over safety fears.
Reporting on mental health is something I take great pride in, under the banner of our mental health watch campaign, and there have been numerous brave people and/or their families who have been generous enough to tell their stories this year. It is only through highlighting problems we can act to solve them.
Taking our campaign a step further we published our first takeover edition in August, where the first 20 pages of the paper were dedicated to mental health stories. This step, which we do not believe has been taken before, hoped to prove those with mental ill health are not alone.
There has, of course, been good news too and our region’s hospitals must be praised for how they dealt with the cyber attack which hit the NHS and many other international organisations.
The James Paget in Gorleston was hit worst, and appointments had to be cancelled.
But staff put in extra hours and got things back up and running as quickly as possible.
At the Norfolk and Norwich and the Queen Elizabeth Hospitals, cyber security seemed to have been better and the impact was minimal. As we move into more of a digital age, health providers must be more aware of keeping their systems safe.
Also to be applauded is the new system taken on by the East of England Ambulance Trust. Ambulance response times in parts of the region have been unacceptable for a number of years and it is clear the service is under immense strain.
But by introducing a new response time system and getting more ambulances on the road, it will be key in 2018 to see the impact of these changes, hopefully for the better.
Of course, as ever, we never forget the frontline staff – often on a fraction of the pay of those at the top – who keep everything running.
As we head into 2018, a keen eye will be kept on how Brexit affects the health service – whether that be through staffing or access to medication and research . And how we cope with what seems to be a simmering recruitment crisis.
Nationally, it is clear the NHS is lacking in funds – Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, said so himself ahead of the budget and the recent high-profile resignation of Lord Bob Kerslake at King’s College Hospital in London leaves no doubt.
Now the NHS has stood up for itself over underfunding – and it is about time too – maybe it is time for local providers to be doing the same.
Good year / bad year
Good year – Always the shining star of our health service, the staff who work tirelessly on the front line again showed this year the invaluable work they do. Throughout advent we’ve been highlighting our healthcare holiday heroes – but these staff work all year round to make sure we get fixed up as quickly as possible. Even in the report which plunged the mental health trust into special measures – where it was perhaps difficult to find positives – inspectors acknowledged staff were extremely caring.
Bad year – Mentioned briefly above, Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, which provides mental health services in the region, did not have a good year – which is openly admitted by its top chiefs. Being put back into special measures after previously coming out of it was a blow for all who work there, but even more so for the patients who rely on their services. It is now essential they improve and do better in 2018.