NHS privatisation in London could ‘cost lives’

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THE government’s Healthcare Commission published a report yesterday which called for National Health Service (NHS) hospital trusts to ‘do more to ensure they consistently provide dignity in care to older people, including offering adequate nutrition and privacy’.

Caring for Dignity reported ‘that in some cases, there are inadequate arrangements for providing privacy through curtains and locks on toilet and wash facilities’ and patients were put in mixed sex bays ‘especially in times of high demand’.

There were problems with care for dementia patients ‘due to a shortage of specialist staff’. Of those patients needing help with eating, only 16 per cent received it. Looking at 1200 safety incidents concerning nutrition and fluids, the Commission found that 25 per cent of these ‘either caused harm or had potential to cause harm to patients’.

The Chief Executive of the Healthcare Commission, Anna Walker, said: ‘There is a critical challenge to ensure that all older people are treated with dignity all of the time. Trusts must step up efforts to achieve this. It is absolutely key to providing the kind of personalised care that the Prime Minister was talking about in Bournemouth this week.’

Walker went out of her way to claim that problems with elderly care were not the result of inadequate resources, like staff and equipment, but due to the attitude of those working in the NHS. Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his ministers make much of the doubling of government funding for the NHS since 1997 when swapping brick-bats with the Tories in Parliament and Walker was merely repeating this when she spoke of adequate resources.

But this was not the view of the nurses’ union. Responding to the report the General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, Dr Peter Carter, insisted that ‘to provide the highest levels of care staff need to feel valued, be fully supported and given the resources to provide the care their patients deserve’.

Every hospital patient knows that there are not enough nurses on the wards. Wards and beds have been axed over the past two years in line with the dictates of the ‘turnaround teams’ and to achieve budget targets imposed by the government. Billions of pounds of NHS funding, that could have been used for front-line staff and services, have gone to PFI property consortia, giant healthcare corporations, contractors and accountancy firms.

Brown and Health Secretary Alan Johnson made clear at the Labour Party Conference that they are accelerating the privatisation of the NHS. Johnson gave the recently elevated junior health minister, Lord Ara Darzi, the floor at Bournemouth to propagandise their plans.

However, yesterday the doctors’ union, the British Medical Association (BMA), condemned Ara Darzi’s key proposals in his review of healthcare in London.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, the Chairman of the BMA said: ‘The suggestion that private companies could run polyclinics would, in reality, destroy the UK model of general practice and threaten many district general hospitals. Both are respected throughout the world and are highly valued and trusted by patients.’

The doctors’ leader called on the government to listen ‘to the views of London doctors and patients who have expressed fears about how Lord Darzi’s proposals would adversely affect patient care and potentially cost lives’.

The Commission’s findings, and the nurses’ and doctors’ warnings about the effects of cuts and privatisation on the NHS must spur the trade union movement into action to stop the government’s attacks.

After 10 years in government, Brown has shown that he rejects arguments about how cuts and privatisation are adversely affecting patient care. To defend the NHS, it is no longer a question of the force of arguments, but the argument of force. Brown must not be allowed to push ahead with the privatisation and destruction of the NHS.

In every locality where hospitals are threatened with cuts or closure, trade unionists must set up councils of action, embracing all community groups and local people, to organise any actions necessary to stop this vandalism – marches, pickets, strikes or occupations.

The NHS anniversary demonstration in London on November 3, called by NHSTogether which includes the Trades Union Congress (TUC), must not be used to engage in pointless pleading with Brown.

The march has to be the springboard for organising national strike action by the NHS trade unions (while providing emergency cover), supported by all the trade unions in the TUC, to stop the NHS being smashed up and to kick out the Brown government.