Over the summer, I came across a video clip on Twitter from Jeremy Vine On 5 about a man called Nick from Northamptonshire who had called in to answer the question: ‘Should GPs be forced to see all patients face-to-face?’. It is a question I am sure many will have asked themselves after attempting to book an appointment with their family doctor, only to be redirected to an impersonal e-consult webpage with countless irrelevant and repetitive questions.

Nick’s story of being refused multiple face-to-face appointments, a misdiagnosis of infection and an inexcusable delay resulted in him being told his cancer was inoperable and he now has less than twelfth months to live unless he has therapy, which has left him in terrible pain. As he spoke, it was heart-breaking to hear and palpable how abandoned and betrayed he felt. Thousands of replies to this video told similar stories of cases like Nick’s, many expressed outrage, and some blamed ‘anybody who voted Tory’. But who is to blame for these tragic and unnecessary deaths? After eighteen months of being told it is our duty to protect the NHS to save lives, why will the NHS not protect people like Nick to save their lives?

Everyday life is arguably back to normal, save for some inconveniences, and we can attend festivals, travel, and go to school, work or university in crowds. At the time of writing, 81.9% of over-12s have had both doses of a vaccine. Yet GP surgeries seem to be one of the last things to return to normal, a service which most would consider to be more essential than nightclubs and cinemas. Those who do manage to get an appointment often face unsatisfactory treatment; a friend of mine was made to stand outside in the cold because her 4-year-old son’s cough ‘might scare the other patients’. Some blame the receptionists, some say the NHS is still ‘at breaking point’, while some even believe this is a preferable and more efficient ‘new normal’.

Claims that the NHS was never properly protected and that it barely coped with the pandemic are questionable. Conference and concert venues were rapidly converted into Nightingale hospitals across the country, but it became clear over Spring 2020 that they were seeing few patients. A year on, many of them are no longer being used for their original purpose. They are now viewed as the ‘ultimate insurance policy, which was thankfully not needed, but this shows that the NHS was never at ‘breaking point’. Having spoken to hospital staff since the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, all have reported similar circumstances, largely empty wards but too many procedures cancelled or postponed in order to keep beds free.

And now even more medical appointments are being postponed as a result of the prime minister’s goal of delivering one million booster doses every day. NHS staff are being taken off non-urgent treatments. The backlog of routine elective care is almost six million, and the cost to clear this is estimated to be up to £16.8bn, according to a recent report from the Health Foundation’s REAL Centre. Without doubt, there will be more missed diagnoses and more cases like Nick’s, and with seemingly endless booster jabs having taken priority over non-COVID care, we are getting deeper and deeper into this hole.