There are two main news stories concerning the NHS in the past few days: Opposition to privatisation of the NHS at the Labour Party Conference and campaigners succeeding in – at least temporarily – preventing NHS Gloucestershire from transferring NHS staff and facilities to a private ‘Community Interest Company’.
A report by the Royal College of Surgeons identifies poor and inconsistent levels of critical care contributing to deaths.
NHS Direct to close three call centres.
Cherry Blair intends to profit from NHS privatisation.
- Conservative election poster 2010
A few recent news articles about the UK’s Conservative and Liberal-Democrat coalition government – the ConDem’s – brutal attack on the National Health Service.
Labour leader Ed Miliband has hit out at the government’s plans for NHS reform, warning that the changes will ‘betray the values of the NHS’.
Speaking at the Labour party annual conference in Liverpool on Tuesday, Mr Miliband received a standing ovation and the largest applause during his speech when he warned ‘you can’t trust the Tories with the NHS’.
He said the government’s reform plans will undermine the values of the NHS as the reorganisation will create a ‘free-market healthcare system’.
The Labour leader also criticised prime minister David Cameron, outlining that he ‘betrayed voters’ trust’ by U-turning on his election promise to end top-down reorganisations in the NHS.
Mr Miliband said: ‘When I look at everything this Tory government is doing, frankly it is the NHS that shocks me most. Why? Because David Cameron told us he was different. You remember. The posters. The soundbites.
‘David Cameron knew the British people did not trust the Tories with the NHS. So he told us he wasn’t the usual type of Tory. And he asked for your trust. And then he got into Downing Street. And within a year he’d gone back on every word he said.’
John Healey, the shadow health secretary, has pledged that a Labour government would ensure NHS hospitals remain in public sector hands as he rounded on government plans to open up all parts of the NHS to private companies.
Healey also seized on the crisis witnessed at Southern Cross care homes earlier this year to admit that Labour “did not act before” against predatory fund managers who saw “elderly people as commodities”.
But he promised that a future Labour government would do so by regulating the care home sector not just on the basis of best care standards but also on “best business practices”.
Healey delivered a combative speech to the Labour party conference in Liverpool after delegates debated a motion condemning the government’s controversial health and social care bill as unnecessary and representing “the biggest top-down reorganisation in the history of the NHS at a time when finances are squeezed”.
Despite changes to the bill, the motion stated that health professionals are still opposed to it “because the essential elements … remain in place, which will fragment the NHS through exposing the NHS to the full force of EU and UK competition law with a commercial regulated market designed to give the impression of patent choice”. The new NHS commissioning board will be “the largest quango the world has ever seen”, it said.
Healey warned that the battle was “not over” against the legislative plans in the health and social care bill, which would break up the national service and set it up as a “full scale market, ruled for the first time by the full of competition law”.
Accusing David Cameron of betrayal, he said. “No one wants this. No one voted for this.”
He said the proposals threatened to destroy Labour’s “golden legacy” to NHS patients, as he hailed the founding of the NHS under a post-war Labour government, and the great improvements he said patients saw under the party’s 13 years in power through investment and reform.
Referring to reports that ministers were privately eyeing up the “huge opportunities for the private sector”, Healey said any move to privatise NHS hospitals would drive a wedge between hospitals and the wider health service as private companies driven by the bottom line to make profits would refuse to collaborate with others. But he ruled out barring private sector involvement in any shape in the NHS.
Healey, whose predecessors introduced independent treatment centres, said Labour believed there would always be an important contribution for non-NHS providers, “including private providers” in the NHS, but as supplements to, not substitutes for, the NHS.
But loud applause followed when he drew a line on private companies moving in to run NHS hospitals.
“Hospitals are at the heart of our NHS. They should be in public not private hands, dedicated totally to patients, not profits. So we will oppose any move to privatise NHS hospitals. We will guarantee under Labour that the NHS hospitals remain in the NHS.”
Gloucestershire NHS has reportedly agreed to delay the proposed transfer of primary health services and 3,000 staff to a community interest company after local campaigners threatened legal action.
In an eleventh-hour legal challenge, the campaign group Stroud Against Cuts has issued a ‘letter before claim’ to the NHS management warning that it plans to seek a judicial review of the decision to farm out local Primary Care Trust services.
NHS Gloucestershire had awarded a contract to deliver primary and community care services, including nine hospitals, to Gloucestershire Care Services, creating the largest Community Interest Company in the UK. No competitive tendering process took place.
The contract, reportedly worth around £100m a year for three years, was due to start on 1 October but according to the campaigners, the NHS has now agreed to delay it while it takes legal advice on its position.
Campaign co-ordinator James Beecham told civilsociety.co.uk: “We believe this is the first example where a social enterprise has got this far and been halted by a legal challenge.
“The current state of play is that the transfer is off while NHS Gloucestershire management assess their legal position.
“In the meantime they have given us an absolute guarantee that they won’t transfer anyone or anything out of the NHS without giving us three days clear notice.”
NHS would not confirm delay
However, NHS Gloucestershire refused to confirm or deny this was true, only saying that it was still assessing the legal situation. In a statement, its chief executive Jan Stubbings said: “We are responding to the correspondence received.
“In deciding on the future management of our community services to meet local needs and circumstances, we have followed all applicable policy and guidance.
“Through this process, we believe we have identified the most appropriate solution for the future. We now have a clear direction with the majority of our community health services becoming part of a social enterprise – working in the community interest and for the social good.
“With a membership model, the new organisation will give staff and service users a stronger voice on how services are run for the benefit of local communities.”
Lawsuit on behalf of service-user
The action is being brought by local resident Michael Lloyd, a user of the PCT’s services, with backing from Stroud Against Cuts. Lloyd’s costs are covered by legal aid but the campaign group is fundraising to cover the community element of the lawsuit.
The campaigners want the services to remain in public hands, fearing that contracting them out is the first step to NHS privatisation.
Caroline Molloy of Stroud Against Cuts said: “We have been advised that NHS Gloucestershire is acting unlawfully. It cannot just hand over all its NHS Primary Care Trust services to an unaccountable social enterprise or community interest company.
“It must either keep the NHS services itself, or have a proper process that would allow services to be provided by another NHS body. Both these options would keep our health services in the NHS, and accountable to the public.”
Lloyd’s solicitor, Rosa Curling of Leigh Day & Co, added: “If the PCT intends to enter into arrangements with a community interest company, it is first required in law to go through a process which allows other economic operators the opportunity of being awarded those contracts.
“No such opportunity has been given and the attempt by the PCT to enter into a contract with a company outside the NHS, in such circumstances, constitutes an unlawful procurement process.”
The campaign brought hundreds of people out onto the streets of Stroud last weekend in protest at the plans (pictured).
Yesterday Stroud District Council hosted a heated ‘extraordinary meeting’ on the issue and passed a motion calling on the local Health Community and Care Scrutiny Committee to examine the proposed move.
Thousands of patients needing emergency surgery are having their lives put at risk by poor NHS care and delays in accessing treatment, according to a damning report.
The Royal College of Surgeons study found that only a minority of patients who need critical care following surgery receive it, while some die or suffer major complications because of delays in finding space in operating theatres.
Junior staff are often left in charge of dealing with post-surgical complications, which can rapidly lead to death if not treated promptly, the report went on.
A patient’s chance of survival also varies widely between NHS hospitals, and even within the same hospital depending on the day of the week.
NHS Direct is to close three of its call centres next year, following landlord East of England ambulance service trust, giving it notice to quit two of the sites in Chelmsford and Norwich. A third site in Ipswich will close because it is supported by the other two.
A spokeswoman for the digital and telephone advice service said the closures were regrettable, but NHS Direct had no choice. A total of 120 staff will be affected, the majority of whom are nurses, although the organisation is hoping to redeploy where possible.
Nick Chapman, the chief executive of NHS Direct trust, said: “There is much work we need to do to understand the full implications of these closures, before a final plan can be agreed by the trust board.”
“Every option will be explored to redeploy those staff affected. We already have over 100 members of our nursing staff currently working from home permanently and there are sites in surrounding areas. No decision has been made to make staff redundant at this time.”
Cherie Blair is a director of a company which is preparing to profit from the growing privatisation of the health service, it can be disclosed.
The wife of the former Labour prime minister is one of the founders of a business planning to open private clinics in supermarkets.
Her choice of venture is likely to prove controversial among Labour supporters, who will today set out their opposition to greater private involvement in the health system.
Party members jeered at a mention of Tony Blair’s name earlier this week during Ed Miliband’s conference speech.
The company is thought to represent Mrs Blair’s first foray into commerce. It is approaching City financiers just as her husband’s business interests have come under renewed scrutiny.
Mrs Blair was thought to have concentrated on her legal career since he stood down as prime minister in 2007 but she now appears to be seeking to capitalise on Coalition plans to open parts of the NHS to more private sector involvement.
Mee, the company she is involved in, claims that it will provide a “revolutionary new way of delivering health care”.
A prospectus adds that there is “potential to grow into other primary health areas in line with the new proposals for the health services”.
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