Doctor who helped launch his 'beloved' NHS in 1948 shedding tears over shambles

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Professor Harold Ellis CBE was just 22 when he started on the first day of the NHS (Image: SWNS)
Professor Harold Ellis CBE was just 22 when he started on the first day of the NHS (Image: SWNS)

A retired doctor who helped launch the NHS in 1948 last night savaged the Tories’ disastrous record on health – and admitted he sheds tears over the shambles.

Prof Harold Ellis, 96, was just 22 and fresh from medical school when he started on the first day of the NHS almost 75 years ago.

As Prime Minister Rishi Sunak yesterday met health leaders to discuss the latest winter nightmare of flu, Covid and bed-blocking, Prof Ellis asked: “What on earth has happened to my beloved NHS?

He said: “We do some great things in the NHS but now we can’t do the basics. If you were ­taken ill and needed to go to hospital, an ambulance came and took you.

“You were admitted and you were seen. I can’t believe we have patients dying because they’ve waited hours for an ambulance, or have to wait hours outside a hospital because there is no space in A&E.

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“I shed a tear when I turn on the news and see what’s happening at some of our hospitals.

“We have had so much taken away from our hospitals that they can no longer cope.”

Prof Ellis told of his heartache at watching the crisis-ravaged health service plunge into further chaos after a decade of cuts.

Medics this week warned that up to 500 people each week are dying because of delays in emergency care amid crippling demand and a lack of staff.

Doctor who helped launch his 'beloved' NHS in 1948 shedding tears over shamblesAmbulance workers went on strike in December over pay and working conditions (Getty Images)

Patients in desperate need of medical attention lay for hours on trolleys in corridors while ambulances backed up outside A&Es unable to hand over their charges. The NHS is drowning under intolerable pressure amid soaring cases of flu and Covid, plus high levels of illness linked to strep A infection.

But the crisis is compounded by delays in hospital discharges which has led to 12,000 medically-fit patients stuck in beds and a surgery backlog of seven million patients.

Hospitals and ambulance trusts across the country declared critical incidents – meaning they cannot accept more patients.

And the horrors come on top of a decline in GP numbers as the NHS faces a fresh wave of potential strikes.

Prof Ellis blames the crisis partly on bed-cutting under the Tories.

Doctor who helped launch his 'beloved' NHS in 1948 shedding tears over shamblesProfessor Harold Ellis is pictured in 1948 as a newly qualified hospital doctor (Professor Ellis)

There were 108,958 general and acute hospital beds in 2011. By the end of 2021 that figure had sunk to 94,827.

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Prof Ellis, one of the most notable British surgeons of the past 50 years, said: “A hospital can only function if it has beds. If we don’t have enough beds we are in serious trouble.

We’ve stripped the bed numbers to the bare bones. In the old days you had flexibility so you could open or close a ward depending on demand.

“The beds were there if you needed them. There is no flexibility any more.”

Doctor who helped launch his 'beloved' NHS in 1948 shedding tears over shamblesThe NHS is drowning under intolerable pressure amid soaring cases of flu and Covid (Getty Images)

NHS staff sickness linked just to Covid were up nearly 50% in December on the previous month – on top of a wider 130,000 staffing shortage.

Prof Ellis added: “When the NHS was formed in 1948 we had very little to run it on.

“It was after the Second World War but we got by. Now look at us.

“We have this fantastic modern society but we can’t do the basics.”

Martin Halle

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15.07.2024, 17:44 • Investigation