A REPORT issued by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) this week exposes the appalling state of hospitals in England as the NHS is cut to the bone by the coalition government’s ‘austerity’ drive to slash public spending and divert money into the banks.
Such is the crisis facing hospitals that the leading doctors of the RCP are warning that acute hospital care is ‘on the brink of collapse’ as cuts in hospital beds and wards impact sharply on a steep rise in emergency admissions.
Over the past decade these admissions have increased by 37% while the number of beds available have been steadily cut by one third – a figure that is due to accelerate rapidly as the government seeks to impose cuts of a further £20 billion in the next two years.
Hand-in-hand with this increase in emergency admissions has gone a steady decline in the number of consultants available, especially during the night-time and weekend period, meaning that newly qualified junior doctors in their first two years of training are forced to cover with inevitable results.
Studies into patient mortality rates have shown a 10% increase in the death rate over weekends.
The Society for Acute Medicine backed up the RCP report and its call for action to prevent the meltdown of hospitals across the country with their president, Dr Chris Roseveare, saying: ‘The NHS is being asked to deliver huge financial savings at a time when many hospitals are already buckling under pressure from rising emergency admissions.’ He added: ‘Patients face the prospect of a very long, tough winter.’
The RCP attempt in their report to come up with a solution to the crisis, a solution which relies on concentrating hospital services in fewer, larger sites which, it is claimed, would be able to provide round-the-clock cover by consultants seven days a week.
They do, however, add the caveat that this solution would also require improvements in community services to care for the many more patients that will have to be treated ‘in the community’ especially because of the steep rise in the numbers seeking hospital care.
In fact, this argument for concentrating services has been seized on by the government as justification for hospital closures, using the spurious argument that closures will bring an actual improvement in the NHS.
But the stark fact is that hospital closures are not accompanied by any increase in local ‘community’ provision, that when one hospital closes its A&E department all that happens is that the nearest, already overstretched, hospital is called upon to take on even more patients leading to the complete collapse of that hospital.
There can be only one solution to the crisis identified by the RCP report and that is for a massive campaign to fight all ward and hospital closures – none of which are being carried out for the benefit of patients, and restore the bed cuts by cancelling the £20bn of cuts.
This campaign must be organised through the setting up of Councils of Action in every area to defend hospitals by occupying and preventing any attempts to close them, while organising a general strike to bring down the coalition.
Hospitals are not the property of the government or the banks, they are the greatest asset that the working class fought for and won after the Second World War and they must be fought for and defended today.
Above all, the fight must be to force the TUC to rapidly go from examining the practicalities of a general strike to calling it and bringing down the coalition and replacing it with a workers government that will nationalise the banks and ensure that every hospital is fully funded to provide the most excellent free health service for all.
The TUC must call a general strike to begin on October 20, the day of the mass demonstration, when the TUC trade unions are committed to bringing millions out onto the streets. There must be no return to work till the coalition has been forced out of office.