Mention hospital car parking to a group of patients, visitors or staff and a lively discussion about how they always seem to be full, how long it can take to find a free space and a range of possible solutions, will often follow!
Park and ride? Build a multi-storey? Come by bus? Bike?
But what if, by providing care differently, fewer people actually needed to visit a hospital? What could the NHS do differently to provide support closer to, or even at, home?
The NHS is asking patients, staff and the public to join in a discussion and make suggestions to help shape the future of the NHS.
It is really important that we all understand the consequences of the current financial situation with regard to the NHS. There is a need to change the way that we deliver healthcare to make sure that it meets the needs of patients, and delivers high quality care at an affordable cost to the country.
One of the most fundamental parts of our health care system is the fact that it is free at the point of use – but that does not mean that it is free – with a budget of around £95 billion a year, the NHS must find ways of delivering care that will make more than £20 billion of savings over the next few years. Without such change, the NHS will become financially unsustainable and the safety and quality of the service may suffer.
Given a magic wand, most of us would wish that we could prevent illness and with it so much of the suffering that is experienced by friends and loved ones. But a magic wand is not always required as we can all take responsibility for our own health. In addition to the obvious risks of smoking and alcohol, nearly half of us will probably be obese by 2035. As many as 400,000 additional cases of stroke and heart disease may occur as a result. We can all contribute towards preventing this.
Following a completely unfounded scare about the MMR vaccine a decade ago, many children did not receive the vaccine – I remember taking two of my own children for their MMR vaccinations and being told by our practice nurse that they were the only children to have had the vaccine in a two week period. The recent outbreaks of measles should remind us of the horrors that some of these illnesses can cause. We can all contribute towards preventing this.
When I was training to be a doctor, treatments for patients who had suffered heart attacks or strokes were not nearly as effective as those available today. Treatments for cancer have improved so much over the last 20 years that more than 1.5 million people are currently living following a diagnosis of cancer in England since 1985.
Charity groups such as Macmillan Cancer Support, working with survivors of cancer and the NHS, are helping to plan the support needed to manage the long term effects following treatment so that patients are in control and can get on with their lives.
We are all living longer, but one of the consequences is that 15 million people are living with a long term medical condition such as heart disease or diabetes. How can the NHS best meet the needs of this large group and help them to take more control of their condition? What should the role of charity/voluntary groups be? Can we learn from the support offered to cancer patients, or patients with mental health problems? Is there a role for internet /telephone access to medical/nursing/other support? Can we use new technology to provide monitoring and diagnostic tests at home, at work, or even at the supermarket?
There has never been a better time to add your suggestions about how the NHS can change in order to provide services in the way that you would like to access them and receive care.
I hope that you will join me in contributing to the Call to Action and shaping the future of our NHS.
I will be holding a Tweetchat on the main themes of Call to Action next week, on Thursday 21 November at 2.00pm.
You are also welcome to contribute your questions and views before the discussion using the following hashtag #NHSCallToActionSouth.
You can also contribute to the debate by leaving your comments on the dedicated NHS Choices page.