The Systematic Dismantling of the NHS
By Prue Plumridge
This is the letter I wrote which was printed in the Maldon and Burnham last week. This is the letter in full as the M&B did not print it all.
On the 5th July it was 65 years since the birth of the National Health Service, without question one of Britain’s greatest achievements, and the envy of many countries around the world. However, as a result of the Health and Social Care Act which came into force on 1st April 2013 we are now seeing the gradual and systematic dismantling of the NHS which has been, until now, a part of a holistic system that plans and delivers care within the state system.
The government deny that it is privatisation by the back door but the evidence is becoming clearer that this is the ultimate intention. Already the planned £20 billion of cuts (or efficiency savings as they are referred to) are beginning to affect the levels of patient care throughout the NHS including in geriatrics, midwifery and mental health. Furthermore the government clawed back £500 million of a budget underspend for 2012/13 which could have been rolled over. To make matters even more concerning some government ministers are even discussing the possibility that ring fencing which currently protects the NHS budget from further cuts should be abandoned.
This is all having an increasingly severe effect on the service. Seven thousand nurses have already been laid off and this figure is expected to rise. Such reductions are already increasing the pressure on those that remain and can only lead, ultimately, to a reduction in the levels of care. There are closure plans for hospitals, A&E’s, maternity units and mental healthcare centres across England and Wales and already there are 18,000 fewer hospital beds. Readers will, I am sure, also be aware from media coverage that A&E’s country-wide are in crisis, waiting times have increased and doctors are warning that they will no longer be able to care for patients adequately. At the beginning of June figures showed that more planned operations were cancelled in the first few months of this year than for any similar period in almost a decade and senior surgeons are warning that the crisis in accident and emergency is cascading through the NHS. Recent figures show too that the number of ambulances who were turned away from A&E has increased by 24% whilst the roll out of the NHS 111 service, which replaces NHS Direct, has been chaotic and fragmented leaving it currently unfit for purpose.
Section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act requires contracts to be put out to tender to the private sector. Already multi-million pound contracts have been awarded to companies like Virgin and Serco which to date equal around £7 billion. It is important to be aware that if public providers go out of business, as they are passed over for contracts or are shut down because a private provider has undercut them, the patient may be stuck with a worse service as the public providers will no longer exist and the private provider will be free to raise its prices later. Hinchingbrooke hospital has already been privatised and it is very likely that we will see many more such privatisations in years to come. I am sure, too, that it will not have escaped readers’ notice that there has been increased advertising for private health insurance on TV, Radio and via unsolicited emails and post. This must tell us something.
What is equally shameful is the attempt by government to blame all the problems of the NHS on everyone but themselves. Older people or nurses and doctors, who we are told lack compassion, have all come into the firing line in a government attempt to deflect attention from the consequences of its reforms. It is not the fault of the elderly or indeed the dedicated, compassionate and hard working health professionals who are under increasing pressure as these cuts start to bite.
We should not forget either that the Act came into law when many MPs, Lords and Baronesses who have, or have had financial interests in private health care voted for it and a further incentive may have been the donations the Conservative party received from companies hoping to cash in on the carve up of the NHS. Surely a conflict of interest?
Dr Clare Gerada, Chair of the Council of the Royal College of General Practitioners said in a recent televised discussion that she believed that we are seeing privatisation by the back door. She said “If you take privatisation as moving resources – state resources (i.e. tax payers’ money) into the profit or not for profit sector that is privatisation. It’s moving resources that currently belong to the state sector into the ‘for profit’ sector and [that] profit will not go back into the state it will go to shareholders.”
I would like to leave readers with a final thought by the Fleet Street Fox who wrote: ‘Despite talk of efficiency and value for money and market forces – all of which are a great idea – there’s never been, in the history of man, a privatisation which helped the end user at all. If you take a thing provided by the state, and give it to a private firm which needs to turn a profit, either the service has to be cut or the prices have to rise. It’s maths so simple even Jeremy Hunt could do it.’