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NHS Reforms: A Catalogue of Disasters Is Gaining Momentum

Posted: 22/01/2012 23:00

Last week, we learned that not only are vast swathes of the general public feeling nervous about the Conservative's Healthcare Reform Bill, but so are healthcare professionals.

Several healthcare unions have started to sharpen their scalpels.

The Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives previously said they were willing to work with ministers. This week they expressed their concerns so strongly that they are now saying they want the bill to be dropped entirely .

Back in November the BMA Council passed a motion expressing its "opposition to the whole Health and Social Care Bill" and called for a public campaign of opposition.

The BMA went further in its opposition, announcing that two-thirds of doctors were in favour of striking over pay and pensions. This hasn't happened in 40 years. Dr Hamish Meldum pointed to the unfairness of the government's position, noting that: "Doctors are at the forefront of attempts to save the NHS £20 billion, while trying to protect patient care... and are about to enter a fourth successive year of a pay freeze."

Doctors and paramedics are being asked to work longer for less pay and for changes to their pension scheme. Taken in tandem with the Health Reform Bill, these changes appear to be 'the last straw' for the BMA.

Given this wave of fresh criticism, how did health secretary Andrew Lansley choose to respond? The unions, he said, were simply playing politics, wanting to 'have a go' at the government about pay and pensions.

Really, Mr Lansley?

Two example we were told about personally last week show hospital staff feeling the strain of the cuts imposed by the government.

• Nurses in an outpatient clinic where the clinic over-ran and another clinic was about to begin had worked from 8.30am until almost 6.00pm. They were so busy they had to stand in the corridor to eat their lunch. One nurse confessed that she was feeling "a bit agitated". Who could blame her? Is there a correlation between such working practices and claims that nurses are not so caring anymore?

• An elderly woman requiring help with feeding and other personal care needed her husband to visit her in hospital more often, as nursing staff seemed unable to cope with such duties. Living in a rural area, he could not afford to visit her each day because of high petrol prices and expensive hospital parking charges. Considerable anxiety arose from the struggle to balance these conflicting demands.

No doubt we all could tell similar worrying stories.

But how are we to understand them? Do such tales reflect bad management, or do they come out of £20billion of cuts that the NHS is having to find?

Every day brings new stories that challenge the claim of a free health service safe in Tory hands.

Dame Joan Ruddock MP recently shared her concerns in the House of Commons. She had received information from inside London's King's College Hospital that priority was being given to private cancer patients in both diagnosis and treatment. She asked Andrew Lansley if he could confirm or deny this. He spoke about the legalities before saying, "If the right hon. Lady has information of a particular instance, she might as well give it to me".

Fair point, you might think, but as Dame Joan said in response, Mr Lansley clearly didn't understand that the person with this information is terrified of putting it into the public domain for fear of the repercussions. After all, whistle blowers are not always treated kindly by their organisations.

A further example of the government's apparent obliviousness to this growing crisis in the health service arose at Prime Minister's Question Time last week.

David Cameron was asked about waiting times. He claimed there were no increases; if anything the numbers had decreased. Yet according to a report on Thursday, waiting times have increased by 43% since the coalition came to power. Department of Health data confirmed that three PCTs failed to treat 75% of patients within 18 weeks.

These figures are unlikely to improve when we also learn that 49% of hospital beds will be handed to the private sector. Less NHS beds can only mean longer waiting times.

Andy Burnham, shadow health minister, gave a stark warning saying it was "too dangerous" to go ahead with the reforms.

If all this were not bad enough, late on Friday came a report from Yvette Cooper that a hospital based in her constituency had called for the army to help keep the hospital A & E Department open. Jon Trickett MP, in whose constituency the hospital also falls, said to the BBC. "A brand new hospital... with all the latest facilities... you have to wonder if there is a secret agenda."

Calling in the army is something that only happens in times of crisis.

Examples like this, coupled with public and professional anxieties about the government's plans for the health service suggest there is only one thing that Messrs Cameron & Lansley should do.

Drop the bill!

 

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