THE NHS is, in practice, being steadily and consciously abolished by the Tories as they drive relentlessly to the goal of a fully privatised health service.
The most direct consequence of the Tory policy of savage austerity cuts leading to staff shortages, ward and department closures is being felt by the most vulnerable sections of society, including children.
The most recent example of the callous disregard of the Tories to the lives of sick children came to light yesterday when Stafford County Hospital suspended accident and emergency services for children after senior clinicians ruled that it was ‘not clinically safe’ to treat them.
According to the NHS Trust responsible for the hospital, a shortage of staff with the necessary specialist training was responsible for forcing a ‘temporary closure’ of the unit to patients under the age of 18 years. They will have to be shunted off to other hospitals, increasing the pressure on A&E departments across the region.
The crisis at Stafford Hospital is not in any way unique; it follows numerous closures of children’s access to vital A&E services across the country. In June, the children’s ward at Ealing Hospital was closed and under-16s were barred from the hospital’s A&E department. In the same month, North Middlesex hospital A&E unit was threatened with complete closure over staff shortages and a lack of trained doctors with children identified as being particularly at risk of receiving ‘inadequate care’.
North Middlesex A&E was put under intolerable pressure due to the closure of the nearby A&E department at Chase Farm hospital in 2013. Again, in June a major review ordered by NHS England into Bristol Royal Hospital for Children concluded that young patients were ‘put at risk of harm’ because of staff shortages and a lack of fully trained medical staff at the hospital. The list of hospital wards shutting down due to staff shortages reached epidemic proportions over the summer months.
Wolverhampton lost 24 beds due to the closure of the geriatric ward. United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust announced maternity services were ‘unsustainable’. Bradford Royal Infirmary closed an elective and acute surgery ward for children at weekends due to staff shortages while Dorset Healthcare announced bed closures forced on it by a shortfall of qualified nurses in its paediatric wards.
All these closures were announced in just one week in June this year! None of these closures that put the lives of children at risk will come as a surprise to the Tories – they are the deliberate outcome of austerity cuts designed to stop spending on the NHS, and divert that money into paying off the national debt, a debt run up bailing out the banks, following the financial crash of 2008.
This crisis can only be sharpened by the Tory drive to seven-day-a-week working in the NHS, a drive that a secret document prepared by the Department of Health’s own civil servants warns risks catastrophe. The document, leaked this week, warns that there is no extra money to fund these proposals and that ‘it will not be possible to find enough skilled staff, meaning the full service cannot be delivered.’
Of course, the Tories never had any intention of funding their demand for 7-day working. It was designed as a stick to beat junior doctors into accepting a new contract that extended their working week while cutting their pay – a prelude for forcing it through all NHS staff.
Their plan to systematically close down the NHS, declare it ‘unfit for purpose’ and open it up to mass privatisation has gone on for too long and cannot be allowed to continue for a minute longer. The working class won the right to an NHS where treatment is free at the point of delivery 70 years ago. Today it can only be defended through demanding that the TUC and health unions stop their ceaseless moaning about the Tory attacks on the NHS and take action by calling a general strike to kick out the Tories, and advance to a workers government that will guarantee a free health service as a basic human right.