Pensioner’s 9-hour wait for a bed at the Whittington
93-year-old war veteran slams government for starving NHS of funding after hospital trolley ordeal
16 March, 2018 — By Tom Foot
George Durack (centre) was made a freeman of the borough in 2015
A 93-YEAR-OLD war veteran who is one of Islington’s most trenchant NHS campaigners was left lying on a trolley for nine hours because of the hospital beds crisis.
George Durack, chairman of the Islington Pensioners Forum, told the Tribune he blamed the government for failing to properly fund the National Health Service.
He was rushed to the Whittington Hospital A&E department by his daughter and treated for what doctors described as a “double whammy” of pneumonia and flu. He was later visited by his friend Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Speaking from his hospital bed yesterday (Thursday), Mr Durack said: “The government is to blame – they are getting away with murder.”
Official figures show that on the day he was admitted the hospital was bursting at capacity without a single bed free for emergency patients. Mr Durack was put on the trolley at around 10am but was not rolled into a cubicle until 7pm. He did not get a proper bed until midnight – 14 hours after arriving at the Archway hospital that he campaigned to save in 2010 with the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition.
Chairwoman of the DHWC, Shirley Franklin, said: “Clearly they need to open up the emergency wards that they use at Christmas, but it appears that the issue is a staffing one. Bad pay and stressful working conditions doesn’t make it very attractive for nurses. I know they have just recruited some, but obviously not enough.”
She added: “George played an essential role in our campaign to save our A&E, helping to mobilise pensioners. It’s dreadful that there is now inadequate provision to treat patients.”
Bed numbers at the Whittington have been steadily falling in recent years as the NHS pushes care out of hospitals and “into the community” to save money.
There is also a national staffing crisis with trusts struggling to recruit nurses across the country.
Figures released by the hospital show there are just 246 beds left for general and acute patients. They were all filled on February 21, the day Mr Durack was admitted.
An extra 48 “escalation” beds, used when hospitals reach full capacity, were also occupied. In the first week of January, all of the general and acute beds, including up to 50 extra beds were occupied for three days, suggesting a need for more beds in the hospital.
Figures released by the health charity the King’s Fund revealed that the number of NHS hospital beds in England has more than halved over the past 30 years while the number of patients treated has increased significantly. The Whittington had 2,000 beds when it first opened in 1948 after the Second World War.
Mr Durack is a Second World War veteran who served in the 7th Armoured Division, also known as the “Desert Rats”.
He was honoured by the council in 2015 and made a freeman of the borough.
A spokeswoman for Whittington Health NHS Trust said: “While there are sometimes significant surges in the number of patients who need our care, staff throughout the Trust work extremely hard to ensure they can be admitted or discharged as quickly and safely as possible, including carrying out regular checks during the day and night to ensure that patients’ safety and quality of care is not compromised.
“To help manage extra pressure over winter, we have increased the number of in-patient beds, brought in more staff to provide urgent and emergency care and increased the number of staff who manage the discharge for patients with complex health needs to ensure they can leave hospital at the right time with the right support available.”
TRIBUNE COMMENT: It’s left to people like George to save the NHS
GEORGE Durack is a quiet, thoughtful man who likes to see all sides of an argument. That is why he was consistently elected by his fellow postal workers as their leader – they knew they could trust him.
But Mr Durack is sure of one thing: that the government is deliberately running down the National Health Service. And he blames the government and prime minister Theresa May, in particular, for the present scandalous state of the NHS.
Ironically, he of all people, who has campaigned so vociferously for better funding for the NHS, should fall victim of the government’s penny pinching policies.
He is no doubt looking forward to being discharged from the hospital so he can continue where he left off – badgering people to fight for the very existence of the NHS.
At 93 he has campaigned long enough to know that unless people are prepared to protect the NHS it will not survive .
The people – who are part of a growing disconnect with politics that has taken root since the 1980s – cannot rely on the mainstream media to campaign on their behalf. Sadly, the media is more interested in peripheral scandals that essentially do not go to the heart of the crises facing the nation.
As Mr Durack is aware, it is up to the people to save the NHS.