My local hospital, University Hospitals Leicester, has had to apply for financial support from the government, after it has forecast going into the red this year by £40m. Tragically, it is planning to cut £45million pounds in a “cost improvement plan” in 2014. This will only mean the loss of more staff, and further exacerbate the problem rather than providing a solution.
Portering and estates staff have already been replaced by Interserve, a private company, which will look to profit by cutting staff costs, which means cutting jobs or not replacing people who leave. As a result this has meant more charges and bureaucracy and a poorer service. So called “backroom” staff are equally important in keeping hospitals clean, safe and infection-free.
Many hospitals across the country are in a similar situation. Crippled by exorbitant PFI (Private Finance Initiative) deals, many of which involve contracts of 30 years to private companies, much of the NHS is struggling financially. This is not surprising, as budgets have been frozen and not adjusted to meet rising costs and demands on the service.
The Con-Dem’s Health and Social Care Act has opened the NHS up to the private or voluntary sectors. The time of managers is diverted, not into improving patient care, but in finding ways to calculate waiting times to keep commissioners, the people who buy our service, happy. NHS staff are constantly faced with the uncertainty that their service may be taken over.
A recent inquiry into the failure of North Staffs NHS Foundation Trust, prompted by an increased death rate due to budget cuts, recommended an increase in qualified medical staff on wards. Yet hospitals are forced to rely on agency staff due to chronic underfunding. In Lewisham, 25,000 people marched last year to save their beleaguered Accident and Emergency service; they correctly blamed the government rather than staff for the NHS’s failings.
Despite pre-election promises that there would be no major re-organisation of healthcare, the Con-Dem government is opposed in principle to the idea of the NHS, and wants to hand over our hospitals to big business. They are trying to force hospitals to become Foundation Trusts, which can be sold off to any willing provider. Private companies can cherry-pick profitable parts of the service, while the state is left to deal with more complex cases. Yet Foundation Trusts were created under New Labour, who were also enthusiastic about PFI deals. They offer no alternative to save the NHS, and will need to be pressurised by mass action into even repealing the Tories’ Health and Social Care Act. When British Rail was privatised, Labour initially said it would be renationalised, but the party went back on their word as soon as they were elected.
The example of Lewisham shows that the public do not believe the government’s lies that cuts need to be made, and are prepared to fight to save services. The trade unions in the NHS should organise co-ordinated industrial action, along with other public sector workers, firefighters and civil servants, in defence of jobs and services.
The Socialist Party puts forward renationalisation of the NHS. We advocate a democratic takeover of our hospitals and a fully-integrated, nationwide service. The bureaucracy of tendering out services needs to go. We would invest in the health service and kick greedy fat cats out of our hospitals. We would nationalise the drug companies which make billions from inflated drug prices. Only by taking control of the running of hospitals ourselves can we have a truly efficient health service.