Crucial operations are being refused! Call a general strike to defend the NHS!

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WHEN at the beginning of the year the Red Cross, known for going into countries plagued by war and epidemics, declared a ‘Humanitarian Disaster’ in the NHS, it hit the nail on the head. The NHS is now a war zone and it is the Tory government which has declared war on the NHS.

Like war-time, we now have war-time rationing. The Tories have created a crisis in the NHS so deep that last week the NHS announced that drugs will be rationed. This week it announced that operations will be rationed as well.

Last week, NHS England announced that one in five new drugs will be rationed in the NHS under new plans to ‘save the health service money’. This week it is announced that unless you are in such excruciating pain that you ‘cannot sleep or do daily tasks’ your knee or hip operation will be cancelled.

Three clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in the West Midlands have proposed reducing the number of people who qualify for hip replacements by 12%, and knee replacements by 19% through this cruel practice. The three CCG groups are Redditch and Bromsgrove, South Worcestershire, and Wyre Forest.

Stephen Cannon, Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: ‘The CCGs’ policy decision to restrict access to NHS care, based on arbitrary pain and disability thresholds, is alarming. Over the last few years we have heard of more and more examples of policies designed to restrict access to hip and knee operations to only those who are in higher amounts of pain or immobility. We are concerned that this is now happening up and down the country, affecting thousands of patients. We fear that this latest policy is just the tip of the iceberg.’

The tip of the iceberg indeed! Not only do we find that this is common practice for CCGs around the country but they have been rationing surgery for years. In 2014, the Royal College of Surgeons produced a report entitled: ‘Is Access to Surgery A Postcode Lottery?’ It revealed that 73% of the CCGs reviewed deliberately delay procedures until they become a lot worse.

The study reported that over a third of CCGs (44%) required patients to be in various degrees of pain and immobility before surgery. The procedures investigated were: tonsillectomy (removal of tonsils), hip replacement and hernia repair. 15% required evidence of a hernia increasing in size or a history of recurring problems, even if a patient is suffering from debilitating pain.

Tonsillectomy, the removal of tonsils, is one of the most common surgical procedures on the NHS and is predominantly performed on children. However, two CCGs had minimum ‘watchful waiting’ periods, meaning that some young patients may not have the surgery for a year and a half.

A more recent poll in September 2016 of 672 hospital doctors and 367 GPs in the UK was carried out by Wilmington Healthcare, a ‘healthcare intelligence provider’. Seven out of 10 doctors said they had witnessed restrictions to NHS services and treatments in the past year.

One doctor told how cancer patients were forced to go private and had to re-mortgage their homes to pay for treatments restricted on the NHS. Doctors also said patients’ varicose vein surgery was being ‘deferred until actual ulceration occurs’. The research also revealed a girl under the age of ten also had funding denied to remove a large and growing cyst on her cheek. She was informed it had to grow bigger before doctors could remove it, leaving her with a larger scar on her face.

Like a cyst after year upon year of cuts, the struggle to defend the NHS has come to a head and burst. It is at this crucial time, when leadership is more important than ever before to organise a national struggle to defend the NHS, that various revisionist groups have started shrieking, ‘This is not a political struggle, this is about defending our local hospital!’ In other words, let them close some other hospital – not ours! These are defeatists who are prepared to allow the Tories to destroy the NHS.

In fact, trade unions must be mobilised on a national basis to organise occupations to stop NHS cuts and closures. The TUC must be forced to call a national general strike to bring down the Tories and bring in a workers government to defend the NHS and expand it with socialist policies.

The All Trades Unions Alliance national conference on February 11 will be discussing the organisation of these crucial actions. Make sure that you are there and that you bring a delegation.