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NHS: the beginning of the end?

By Carla Turner

APRIL 2013 could go down in history as the day that marked the beginning of the end for our National Health Service. If, that is, we don’t rouse ourselves to massive nationwide action NOW.

General practitioners (GPs) have already started the takeover of the lion’s share of the NHS budget and services are being handed to private companies such as Serco and Virgin to run. A&E units face closure across the country. It is an outrage that the Labour Party, which created the NHS in 1946-48, and the trade unions – especially those representing health workers – have done little in response to this danger.

Despite the fact that millions see the NHS as the most loved and necessary institution in Britain, the health unions and the Labour Party have not organised a single national demonstration or nationwide day of action. The large-scale local protests against specific closures – like the Defend Whittington Hospital marches – show that such a call could have put millions on the streets. It has been left to such local or citywide groups to organise events like the 18 May Defend London’s NHS demonstration.

The People’s Assembly planned for 22 June must put a rocket under the union leaders and launch the call to take to the streets and take industrial and direct action to save our NHS.

The wreckers go in

The Health and Social Care Act became law a year ago and is now well down the road of implementation. The new structures – implemented on 1 April – mean that GP-led groups are taking control of local budgets and a new board, NHS England, has begun to oversee the day-to-day running of our services.

Rather than this allowing GPs to make the best decision for the patients, because “they know them the best” as the government has been suggesting, it’s obvious that how the GPs spend that money is being decided by the Department of Health. It’s also clear that with GPs already stretched for time the job of controlling local budgets will just be auctioned off to private companies allowing healthcare to become even more fragmented.

Hospital wards face the axe

Many wards all over the country are facing the axe, from maternity and paediatrics to care of the elderly. With an increased aging population, shutting down wards is putting the general public at risk. With the majority of wards already understaffed it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep them open, particularly at weekends or at nights.

With 11 out of 175 children’s wards being shut down waiting lists are simply going to grow as hospitals become more and more stretched for beds.

What we need is to create more jobs rather than cutting them to ensure that wards can be staffed at a safe level and the wards which provide our care aren’t just closed down with no thought for the consequences.

Accident and Emergency takes the strain

A&Es across the country are under pressure with fast rising numbers of patients and falling numbers of staff. With people finding it hard to get doctor’s appointments and drop in centres being closed down, people resort to accident and emergencies for non-urgent issues. As more and more doctors and nurses workovertime with no sleep breaks it is becoming an increasingly dangerous environment.

With one in ten closed or set to close a vast number of people are going to have to travel some distance to reach their ‘local’ emergency department. It’s clear that closing down A&Es is just a prelude to closing the whole hospital, as you lose all your acute admissions and a domino effect occurs.

The push for closing these departments is simply cost cutting without any thought to how people in the community are going to be affected. With A&Es already seeing waiting times of over four hours, cuts will see waiting times rocket.

NHS Trusts look for cuts

NHS Trusts all over the country are beginning to refuse operations under the NHS. These range from hip replacements to cataract removal and wisdom tooth extraction. People are also being refused surgery if it’s believed to be linked to their so-called ‘life style choices’ such as drinking or being overweight.

NHS Portsmouth will not allow patients classed as overweight to have routine hip or knee replacements whereas before they only said the obese could be refused. And NHS West Kent is forcing smokers to go on quitting courses before they can join waiting lists for operations. NHS Warwickshire is cutting ‘low priority’ treatments, which include injections for back pain, and managers must first clear any orthopaedic surgery. The NHS in Greater Manchester and Oldham is refusing surgery for mild varicose veins and strict criteria must be met before removal of warts or tonsils will be considered.

It’s going to be the poorest who cannot afford to pay for these operations privately who are going to suffer. To top it all off, we are told to swallow cuts to frontline services to ‘reduce spending’ whilst the top managers recruited to do the cutting trouser obscene wages.

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