But the big question is: what to do about it? The Government’s answer is to keep people out of hospital by providing cheaper “care in the community”, but as people begin to understand what this will mean in practice, opposition is growing.
Saturday 12 May saw a day conference in the City to look at all this in more detail, with both local and national speakers – and Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, on video.
Sally Ruane, from De Montfort University, described the current crisis in Leicester in very much the same terms as the situation here: no planned operations for three months, resulting in a £10million loss of revenue, major hospitals on “black (crisis) alert” nearly half of the time since last Christmas, and ambulances regularly backing up outside A&E. She explained that despite what the Government says, overall UK spending on health services is relatively less than most other big European countries and isn’t keeping pace with inflation and a growing population.
Professor Sue Richards updated the meeting on the Judicial Review backed by Stephen Hawking before his recent death and designed to challenge the legality of present Government policy, which she felt was fundamentally about the break-up and privatisation of the NHS along US lines. She said that the USA spent about double the amount per head on health care than the UK, for a patchy and generally inferior outcome for most people. Quality provision does exist there, but only if you’ve got a lot of money.
Marie Hannah from the Royal College of Nursing said that nurses were under intolerable pressure and were leaving faster than they could be replaced, both locally and nationally, leading to massive extra spending on agency nurses to fill the gaps. She felt that Government plans had something to be said for them, but pointed out that care in the community can’t easily be monitored for effectiveness, and can often be used as a means of covering up deficiencies in services. There have always been additional pressures in hospitals in the winter months, but these are now being seen throughout the year – the NHS is suffering from ill-health itself.
Mike Scott from the Nottingham branch of campaigning group Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) proceeded to speak in detail about what was planned locally for health and care services, and how these plans affect everyone in Nottingham and south Notts.
Every area of the country has been told to produce a Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) covering both the NHS and Council adult care provision. The Greater Nottingham plan has some desirable aims, but seems totally impractical in reality. The motivation behind it is not to improve services, but to make £628million of cuts over the next four years. Proposals include the loss of 200 acute beds, a 20-40% reduction in emergency admissions, 15% reduction in A&E attendances and a 25% reduction in admissions to nursing and residential homes for older people – all at a time when the elderly population is rising steeply and the Royal College of Surgeons is saying there aren’t enough beds anymore.
This is simply not possible and sounds very much like the earlier unsuccessful “Care in the Community” plan, which closed psychiatric hospitals but didn’t transfer the money saved to community-based services, leading directly to the current crisis in mental health services.
The STP is really about making cuts and dividing up the NHS into bite-size chunks, ready for private companies to cherry-pick the cheap profitable services, leaving the rest for a rump NHS. It will be a two-tier service, just like the USA. The Care Quality Commission has found that nearly half of all private hospitals fail to adequately ensure the safety of patients and a recent Guardian newspaper report stated that “private healthcare groups are understood to be particularly fearful of the introduction of a compensation scheme for patients who have to be transferred to NHS hospitals as a result of negligence, as it could hit their profits.”
KONP led the successful campaign to sack the now bankrupt multinational company Carillion from running the Facilities Contract at the QMC and City hospitals, and once services came back in-house, the hospital Trust had to take on an extra 50 cleaners, just to guarantee minimum acceptable standards of cleanliness.
Mike ended by telling the astonishing and outrageous story of the Treatment Centre at the QMC. Circle Healthcare refused to re-bid for the contract earlier this year, as they didn’t think it would give them enough profit. The hospital Trust said it could run the Centre successfully for a lot less than Circle have been getting up to now, so the company took legal action to force the new contact to be “reconsidered.”
They clearly believe they have a right to make money out of the NHS. We might wonder what Nye Bevan, founder of the NHS in 1948, might have said about that? Most likely that they should be locked up, not indulged!
KONP believes in kicking out the privatisers and reinstating a single coherent, fully-public and properly funded NHS. After all, private companies are about making money, not patient services; they need the NHS, but the NHS doesn’t need them!
And what did the Shadow Health Secretary have to say? His virtual self told the conference that we needed a universal and publicly-funded NHS, not private companies taking money out of the service. Life expectancy is actually going backwards in some parts of the country and it’s poorer people who suffer the most ill-health. Mental health services for both older and younger people are being cut, as are drug and alcohol services. He committed Labour to bring in an NHS Reinstatement Bill when they next form the Government, to protect the greatest achievement of the Welfare State founded by Labour after the second World War.
And he, like the other speakers, got an enthusiastic round of applause!
The Crisis in Nottingham Healthcare: The Truth Behind The Headlines conference took place on Saturday 12 May 2018 at Friends Meeting House, Clarendon Street