PATIENTS suffering from serious conditions, requiring hip or knee replacements, hernias repaired and cataracts removed, all considered ‘non-urgent surgery’, have been told that they will have a minimum three-month agonising wait.
Three months, in which time their conditions can rapidly deteriorate. Untreated cataracts can lead to blindness, while those requiring joint replacements are in excruciating pain and cannot move around freely. Untreated hernias are prone to life-threatening infections.
Given that the NHS has pledged to provide care at the point of need, it is surely illegal for any clinical commissioning group (CCG) to bring in minimum waits for care when these treatments could be provided, and the trade unions must challenge and refuse to accept such an approach.
The minimum wait policy, adopted by NHS CCGs in Lincolnshire, has provoked uproar from doctors, nurses, patients and staff alike. They rightly insist that this challenges the very principles on which the NHS was founded: That care is provided free at the point of need and accessible to all.
Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Lamb, a former health minister, said the move was ‘a shameful indictment of the underfunding of the NHS’ that would prove unfair and divisive. ‘It undermines the core principles of the NHS: that everyone should get compassionate treatment, as early as possible, when they need it. Those who can afford it will go private to skip the wait, while others will be left waiting in pain and discomfort. This is simply impossible to justify.’
Trafford CCG in greater Manchester has confirmed that it is also considering bringing in a similar policy, according to the Health Service Journal (HSJ). NHS England oversees all 209 CCGs which between them spend over £60bn of the NHS’s £125bn annual budget. And it has signalled that it is prepared to back minimum waits, despite the extreme controversy they have aroused.
The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) said: ‘Introducing an arbitrary minimum waiting time for surgery is unlikely to save money in the long-term and is ethically wrong. Delaying surgery can mean a patient’s condition worsens, and can make surgery more difficult and less successful.’
The British Red Cross has already warned that the NHS was facing a ‘humanitarian crisis’ the like of which you would see in a country in the middle of a war or natural disaster.
And this wartime rationing of care is a direct result of Tory cuts, a government which has already launched an attack on junior doctors forcing them to work unsafe contracts, an attack on nurses, completely axing the student midwives’ and nurses’ bursary, and an attack on patients, with the mass closure of A&Es, maternity and children’s wards up and down the country. This NHS disaster has been manufactured by a Tory government hell-bent on smashing up the National Health Service.
Unite’s Scottish national convenor, paramedic Jamie McNamee, gave a snapshot of the accelerated crisis in the NHS. He said: ‘If you go to the casualty department at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary or at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at any day of the week, you’ll see a huge array of ambulance vehicles sitting there at any one time. Inside the hospital, it would not be unknown to have a corridor full of ambulance trolleys and patients on these trolleys waiting to get an appropriate clinical handover.’
The Tory government is attempting to smash up the NHS and drive the working class back to the conditions in Victorian times famously written about in Jack London’s book the People of the Abyss (1903) about life in the East End of London in 1902. Last week, Labour MP for Kensington and Chelsea, Emma Dent Coad published a report she compiled in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire showing these conditions returning.
The report, ‘After Grenfell’, reveals that multiple children were hospitalised with hypocalcaemic shock, a condition caused by a lack of calcium. One child in the borough has recently been diagnosed with rickets, the old Victorian disease caused by malnutrition, while adults have been diagnosed with TB.
The working class will not be driven back. The NHS is one of the great gains of the working class. The Tory party have declared war on the NHS and it is on a war footing that the working class must respond. We have had a year of strikes of the junior doctors who are still locked into battle against health secretary Hunt. The nurses are balloting for strike action for the first time since 1987. There have already been multiple strikes of porters, cleaners and catering staff in hospitals up and down the country demanding that they be taken back in-house and that the private companies who employ them are driven out. And the NHS students are ready to fight to win back their student bursaries.
It has become obvious that the only way to defend the NHS is for nurses, junior doctors, hospital staff and NHS students to all come out on strike together, backed up by the rest of the working class across the entire country. Such a general strike has the power to bring this Tory government down.
The forming of a workers government that will restore the NHS, build new hospitals, and restore free state education to encourage the next generation of doctors, nurses, midwives and NHS staff has become absolutely necessary.