JONATHAN Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, has responded to reports in the Health Service Journal (HSJ) by warning: ‘With 48 hours to go until the General Election the true scale of the secret Tory plan for cuts and closures across the NHS has been revealed by the HSJ.’
He added: ‘We now know that if the Tories are re-elected on Thursday we’ll see hospital wards closed, waiting times growing, treatments rationed and staff cut. The fact that NHS bosses have described this as the “most extreme and difficult NHS finance process they had experienced” and would “challenge the value basis of the NHS” will make chilling reading for patients and their families who deserve the very best levels of care.’
He concludes: ‘The NHS cannot survive five more years of a Tory government. That is why Labour will pledge to bring the health service back from the brink with a multi-billion pound rescue package. The British people deserve nothing less.’
If anything, Ashworth is underestimating the situation which the HSJ characterises as ‘unthinkable’, including closing services, stopping treatments and systematically extending waiting times. He does not deal with the Tory STP plans which Labour has just pledged to review, not scrap.
Senior managers have told the HSJ that their instruction has been to ‘think the unthinkable’ to cap costs. These draconian measures are currently being discussed in private by NHS England and NHS Improvement officials, with decisions expected to be announced after the general election.
Fourteen areas are under massive pressure to make savage cuts because they are on course to miss agreed ‘overdraft limits’. These areas are: Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset; Cambridgeshire and Peterborough; Cheshire (Eastern, Vale Royal and South); Cornwall; Devon; Morecambe Bay; Northumbria; North Central London; North Lincolnshire; North West London; South East London; Staffordshire; Surrey and Sussex; Vale of York and Scarborough; and Ryedale.
Dozens of Accident and Emergency units are facing closure or being downgraded in a far-reaching overhaul of urgent care which senior doctors warn will have ‘disastrous’ consequences for the NHS.
An analysis of documents drawn up to remodel the health service in England shows that 24 casualty units, from Durham to Somerset, have been marked for potential closure despite record demand for A&Es and serious overcrowding across the country.
NHS bosses, who have drawn up the changes as part of efforts to plug a £22bn hole in the health service budget by 2021, insist that concentration of specialist urgent services could save lives and there are no plans for a ‘significant’ reduction in the existing number of 175 emergency units. Senior emergency doctors say that the plans amount to proposals to ‘make the River Nile run backwards’ by planning for a reduction in demand for A&E services at a time when Britain has a growing and ageing population.
Research based on the STPs’ 44 regional blueprints by the Johnston Press Investigation Unit reveals that managers are planning to cater for up to 30 per cent fewer A&E visits, and plans have already been advanced to downgrade units to Urgent Care Centres with fewer specialist or consultant-grade staff.
A key part of the scheme is to reduce reliance on hospitals, in particular A&E units, by expanding primary care into integrated ‘hubs’ staffed by GPs and other carers, bolstered by technology and teams to carry out home visits and turn people away from hospital care.
In the Labour manifesto, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party states it will: ‘Halt and review the NHS STPs which are looking at closing health services across England, and ask local people to participate in the redrawing of plans with a focus on patient need rather than available finances.’
The STPs however do not need redrawing they need scrapping and with them the entire programme of hospital closures and cuts in services. The finances to maintain the NHS can be achieved by the nationalisation of the drugs industry and the scrapping of the UK’s war preparations East of Suez.