A fish rots from the head, but the NHS may be rotting from the feet. Podiatry is not up there in the headlines, yet what’s going on in that unglamorous zone is an alarming microcosm of the downward path of the health service. This is a story of the NHS in England in retreat and the private sector filling the vacuum.
You know the big picture from the ever-worsening monthly figures: deteriorating A&E, ambulance and operation waiting times, and a steep rise in bed-blocking. As debts pass £2.5bn, the NHS feels the tightening financial tourniquet.
Now look at it through the prism of just one small corner, as seen from the feet up. Every week 135 people have amputations because diabetes has caused their feet to rot: their circulation goes and then the sensation in their feet, so they don’t notice damage done by rubbing shoes, stubbed toes or stepping on nails. Minor injuries turn into ulcers that if left untreated turn gangrenous, and so the toes, then the foot, then the leg are lost – horrific life-changing damage. Numbers are rising fast, with nearly three million diabetics. The scandal is that 80% of these amputations are preventable – if there were the podiatrists to treat the first signs of foot ulcers. But the numbers employed and in training are falling.