A few recent news articles concerning the UK’s Conservative and Liberal-Democrat coalition government – the ConDem’s – brutal attack on the National Health Service.
Research involving 1,645 BMA members polled about the government’s health and social care bill has found that 89% think increased competition will lead to fragmentation of services, while 66% believe that the move for all NHS acute providers to reside within foundation trusts will damage NHS values.
The poll, conducted online in January by Ipsos Mori, also shows that nearly 60% of those surveyed think health secretary Andrew Lansley’s plans will have a negative impact on their personal role within the NHS, with 31% saying it will be a major one and 27% saying it will be minor. A specific concern, feared by a majority of those polled, is that the reforms will mean they spend less time with patients – something opposed by almost all those questioned.
Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of council at the BMA, said that the results show that the government “can no longer claim widespread support among doctors”.
In just six days, the petition to tell the government to Save The NHS has been signed by an incredible 175,000 members. We’ve only just finished voting on which campaigns to work on together over the next few weeks, and now we’ve already managed to build 38 Degrees’ fastest-ever growing petition!
While the petition is growing fast, 52,000 of us have shared it on Facebook, thousands more spread the petition on Twitter, hundreds of members organised local meetings and have spoken to their local MP, and the petition has only just been launched!
The media have noticed too. On Monday the Independent said, ”The campaign group 38 Degrees – which was instrumental in forcing the Government to drop its plans to sell off parts of Britain’s forests – collected more than 80,000 signatures against the plans over the weekend.”
If you haven’t already, please sign the petition and share with your friends and family.
The “creeping privatisation” of the NHS will affect patient care, top doctors have warned, saying the government’s planned shakeup risks hospitals losing key services, critical research being jeopardised and public goodwill for blood donations disappearing as private firms are seen to profit from public funds.
Medical leaders fear the controversial switch to allow “any willing provider” – voluntary, public or private – to supply care services in the NHS will fragment the system. Driven by the need to save £20bn from NHS budgets, the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, plans to increase commercialisation and competition across the health service – with no part off limits.
Already, large elements of the health service are falling into private hands. Last September, Serco, the multinational services company with an empire stretching from railways to maintaining ballistic missiles, became the UK’s largest provider of pathology services, a market worth £2.5bn, with the takeover of King’s hospital laboratories in London.
The government’s plans to outsource more NHS services have left many in the public sector with a bitter taste in their mouth and the private sector positively drooling. In the coming years, an array of health services is likely to be outsourced despite little evidence that it would improve efficiency and make savings. This will see a push to further privatise clinical services such as radiology and pathology – the latter worth £2.5bn per year. The government has recently been in talks about privatising part of the NHS blood service to make it more “commercially effective”.
Even NHS Direct is in the firing line with Capita – a company reported to the Office of Fair Trading two years ago for allegedly overcharging schools by £75m for IT contracts – lined up to manage the contract, according to reports. Major off-shoring is also on the agenda. John Neilson, head of NHS Shared Business Services, said recently that the NHS should outsource the administration of procurement to call centres in India to save £20bn over the next four years. For private companies eyeing a slice of the NHS pie, it gets better: NHS Trusts may ultimately come under private ownership with many of the services they manage also outsourced.
Areas such as estates management, worth about £7bn per year, and back-office functions such as HR and IT are also prime targets to be transferred to private owners.
Unison says local authorities face budget cuts of up to 27% and cannot protect their adult care spending.
The King’s Fund has predicted that local authority care services will face a funding gap of at least £1bn by 2015.
Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social care, said demand for NHS services would escalate as social care users are left without care.
‘With stricter criteria to qualify for care and hiked-up charges, people are being priced out of the help they need,’ she said.
West Cornwall MP Andrew George is calling for cross-party support in an effort to block the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill.
Speaking during an initial debate on the bill in Parliament, Mr George said that the future of the NHS is more important than party political point scoring. He called for MPs to come together and to see if the Health Secretary and his fellow Ministers were really “listening” to concerns as they had claimed they were.
After the debate, Mr George said that he would be seeking a meeting of MPs and other stakeholders (including the BMA, Kings Fund, Royal Colleges, etc) before the Bill comes back to the main chamber of the House of Commons for its report stage after the Easter recess.
Simon Burns, the ebullient health minister and understudy to Andrew Lansley, has been sporting a new haircut this week in preparation for being made a privy counsellor. But his promotion as a confidant of the Queen hardly compensates for the terrible pounding he and Lansley, not to mention the Liberal Democrat health minister Paul Burstow, have been taking over the NHS proposals. One suspects the Queen might be quietly asking him what he thinks he is doing meddling with the health service.
Ministers certainly feel they are being hit from every side after they formally lost the support of the Lib Dems on Saturday, the British Medical Association on Tuesday and the former Blairite health secretary Alan Milburn on Wednesday.
For David Cameron it is now double or quits. He has a limited amount of political capital. Should he expend it on defending the plans as they stand or signal some big rethink? Half-measures are pointless. He has shown himself willing to compromise on school sport, forests and some welfare changes. But to delay the health shakeup, or change it at its core, would be a retreat of an entirely different order.
Monitor, the taxpayer-funded body that regulates the health service, will have to spend millions more to keep the Health Secretary’s free-for-all in check.
The Government quango could see its budget jump from £20million a year to £130million to cope with the changes, it has emerged.
It makes a mockery of David Cameron’s claim that the Coalition plans, which hand 80% of the NHS budget for doctors to spend how they want, will “abolish” bureaucracy in the health service.