Recently my 6 year old was seriously injured in a car crash. It took over an hour to get to A&E because every bend in the road caused excruciating pain to my son who was strapped in a hard stretcher with head blocks. Once there, he received first class care.
There's nothing like a medical crisis to focus the mind. During the time I spent on a children's ward I learnt two things. That frontline staff are unsung heroes and that the NHS is facing the greatest threat since its inception.
Dr Mark Porter, Head of the British Medical Association, has warned that our politicians are engaging in a conspiracy of silence. Deflecting from the brutal cuts they intend to inflict on an NHS, already in a critical condition, due to years of under funding and the gradual, debilitating creep of privatization.
Despite national ambulance targets being set for a reason (delays mean increased risk of mortality) they are constantly missed due to under funding. Once the ambulance arrives you have to get to A&E within "the golden hour", after which the odds of survival dwindle. Yet, A&Es are being shut down as though they were sweet shops providing nothing more than a sugar fix for greedy children. A nice to have but not a central component to a functioning, civilised society.
In March, a letter signed by over 100 leading doctors warned that patients would be faced with higher costs but lower standards due to the growing involvement of private firms in the NHS. They were scathing of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act for "leading to the rapid and unwanted expansion of the role of commercial ¬companies in the NHS".
A report, published in the Independent on Sunday in April, revealed that local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are struggling with the logistical quagmire of monitoring some 15,000 private contracts. The report by the Centre for Health and the Public Interest (CHPI) found that increasingly these contracts are issued to large multinationals, backed by private equity. It raised concerns that CCGs are not monitoring and enforcing contracts effectively, resulting in catastrophic failures such as the abuse at Winterbourne View Hospital and Serco's out-of-hours primary care contract in Cornwall.
A recent study showed that mental health related absences in the NHS, due to stress, depression and anxiety, have doubled under this government. Apart from the tragic human costs, sickness and absence costs the NHS millions every year.
One senior A&E sister who left my local hospital in the last few years said, "It's like being in a war zone every day. There was never enough staff on duty to cope with demand, so we were working under constant stress. Every time you're forced to deprive a patient of the care they need, it chips away at your soul until eventually there's nothing left to chip away at and you just stop caring. That's when most of us realise it's time to leave the profession".
There has also been a 3 fold increase in the use of agency staff, who can charge as much as £1,600 a shift (most of which goes to the agent). The total agency bill to the NHS this year is expected to be £980 million.
One NHS hospital paid more than £3,200 for a locum doctor to cover a single shift over the Christmas crisis. No organization could withstand this level of gross mismanagement. It's no wonder the NHS is on its knees. We know from history that running down public services is a precursor to privatization (see Privatising the World by Conservative MP Oliver Letwin).
If we accept the narrative that NHS cuts are necessary, it follows that we concede privatisation is inevitable. If we relinquish the principal of public health care for all, we're signing our NHS over to corporate providers. That, in the words of one of the doctors interviewed in the incisive film,"Sell-Off: The Abolition of the NHS, "is like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank".