NHS news is dominated by responses to Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘Five pledges, hold me to them’ speech yesterday. Many responses attack the credibility of Cameron’s pledges.
- Conservative election poster 2010
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.
Special report: The government promised real terms increases in the NHS budget, but Sarah Boseley finds on the ground the reality is services are being cut and healthcare rationed
In the little village of Mortimer, near Reading, Berkshire, Bill Walters sits most of the day in the conservatory he built before his hip gave out. He can get up the stairs with crutches, but the pain, he says, half-way up and breathing heavily with the effort, is “excruciating”. Doctors agree he needs a hip replacement. On 9 December he was told the waiting time was 18 weeks. He now has a “pencilled-in” date in July, when he will have been waiting for 31 weeks.
A little over a year ago, David Cameron stood at a lectern in the first televised leaders debate of a British general election and declared his passionate devotion to the NHS following the illness and death of his son, Ivan. “What it did for my family and my son I will never forget,” he said. His party would make an exception of the NHS, he promised, sparing the axe and increasing spending in real terms so that “we improve it, we expand it, we develop it”.
Bill Walters could be forgiven for wondering how Cameron’s pledge squares with his present pain. Waiting lists like the one he is on are growing. The Patients Association, hearing hundreds of stories from people complaining of delayed and cancelled operations, put in freedom of information requests to every acute NHS Trust in England in January, asking about nine common surgical procedures including hip and knee replacements. Among the 62 Trusts that replied, it concluded, 10,757 patients had not received an operation because they were unfortunate enough to need it in 2010 instead of 2009.
The PM claims that spending will rise but the figures show that it will be frozen or even cut.
One of David Cameron’s “five guarantees” on the NHS is that spending on the health service will rise “in real terms” over the course of this Parliament. In his speech on the NHS today, the PM boasted that there would be “£11.5 billion more in cash for the NHS in 2015 than in 2010”. He added: “We are not cutting the NHS. In fact, we are spending more on it.”
Cameron is referring to the fact that spending on the NHS, which currently stands at £102.9 bn, will rise to £114.4bn by 2014-15, a cash increase of £11.5bn. But what he ignores is that all of this increase will be swallowed up by inflation. The purchasing power of the NHS will be progressively reduced as the price of drugs and equipment continues to rise.
Once we take inflation into account, health spending will be frozen or even cut. As Professor John Appleby, chief economist at the King’s Fund, writes in the latest edition of the British Medical Journal, “by 2014-15 the amount of money the NHS has to spend in real terms, its purchasing power, will have gone down by 0.9%.” Thus, not only will Cameron fail to meet his flagship pledge to increase spending on the NHS “in real terms”, he will fail to even protect it from the cuts.
David Cameron’s decision to give personal guarantees about the future of the NHS and to declare himself “personally accountable” to deliver those guarantees is astounding.
It shows that the Prime Minister understands that Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has lost the plot and with it any appreciable support in the health service.
No-one should have any illusion about Cameron’s attitude to the NHS and other public services.
He knew exactly what was in Lansley’s proposals.
He and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg signed them last year.
Both men have been ducking and diving in recent months as one section of health carers after another has lined up to denounce what they see clearly as the private sector taking over our health service.
Cameron makes a lot of noise about not privatising the NHS, but he is being disingenuous.
No-one imagines that such a huge enterprise as the NHS would be put up as a job lot to be bid for by privateers or revamped as “some American-style private system,” as he puts it.
The Con-Dem coalition plan is more insidious but just as deadly.
The government intends to open every aspect of health care to the private sector, allowing it to play the role of a parasitic creeper that envelops a healthy tree and deprives it of life.
‘We will not endanger universal coverage — we will make sure it remains a National Health Service.’
‘We will not break up or hinder efficient and integrated care — we will improve it.’
‘We will not lose control of waiting times — we will
ensure they are kept low.’
‘We will not cut spending on the NHS — we will increase it.’
‘And if you’re worried that we are going to sell-off the NHS and create some American-style private system — we will not. We will ensure competition benefits
£20 billion ‘efficiency savings’ will leave patients a grim choice of going private or going without
The Bill threatens to fragment many other services by offering bits of them up to competitive tender by ‘any willing provider’ and putting hospitals into competition.
But waiting times are already rising after Mr Lansley scrapped national targets.
This is wilful deception. From this year a combination of inflation and other cost pressures on the NHS mean that real spending is already going down in real terms, and will at best remain frozen over two years.
Not even the most fanatical private provider wants to buy up the whole NHS, or could afford to do so. Cameron knows that even if he did want a US-style system here, he could never sell it to the voters.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise to “protect” the National Health Service will be meaningless if his government remains determined to force through the most significant and controversial rewriting of the NHS’ mission in its 60 year history, say health workers.
Unite, now the country’s largest trade union, says that widespread distrust of the government’s plans to dismantle the NHS have forced the prime minister into the astonishing position of making yet another declaration of commitment to the NHS – in the face of doubts brought about by his own policies, and by lack of confidence in Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.
Unite says Mr Cameron’s emollient words on 7 June 2011 will be met with “justified voter anger” if, as feared, the pause on the Health and Social Care bill results in little or no change to the competition-first proposals which have attracted an astonishing degree of criticism from health professionals.
The union adds that promises to keep waiting lists “low” insult the thousands of people now facing an 18-week or more wait since the government scrapped waiting time commitments as one of its first acts in office.
ON the day Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to increase spending on the NHS, a North-East hospital trust announced an emergency package of spending cuts totalling £22m.
Simon Pleydell, chief executive of South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundations Trust, also revealed yesterday that, despite Government promises to ring-fence NHS spending, his trust had started this financial year £6m worse off than the previous year.
Mr Pleydell, who runs the 1,160-bed James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, and the 180-bed Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, said the trust was having to slam the brakes on spending in order to hit Government efficiency targets.
Yesterday, Mr Cameron announced he was making “real changes” to controversial plans for NHS reforms in England and issued five guarantees, including a promise that NHS spending would be increased every year.
The UK’s care industry is on the “brink of collapse”, according to a report by the public-sector union Unison.
There have been growing concerns about the UK’s biggest care-home provider, Southern Cross.
Unison said other companies in the sector also had financial difficulties, and that if they went under, taxpayers would have to pick up the bill.
The Department of Health denied that financial issues had undermined the care system.
Southern Cross, which has 31,000 residents, has said it will have to reduce the amount of rent it pays to its landlords for the next four months.
The Unison report said the next biggest provider, Four Seasons, was also in trouble and the two providers were “clinging on by their fingernails”.
But Four Seasons chief executive Dr Pete Calveley said the company was in “a robust financial position and is certainly not in any difficulties”.
The care crisis is far from over”
The union said the care industry could be highly profitable for private-equity investors and was worth about £4bn a year – but the investment was “high risk”, with many owners trying to “re-sell at the highest price in the shortest time”.
“Just as some banks were too big to fail so some public service contracts are too big, or too important, to fail,” it added.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “We have already seen the huge impact of the Southern Cross collapse, but the care crisis is far from over.
“Private equity and other private sector operators are hovering over the NHS, eager to make a quick profit – at the long term cost of care quality and continuity of service.
“Taxpayers will have to pay the price again, as they will be forced to pick up the bill for collapsing companies. We need to halt the privatisation of any more public services, before more people are made to suffer in the name of profits.”