Scrap the market in the NHS!

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IPSWICH Hospital, in Suffolk, has been deprived of £2.5m because it provided much-needed care for its patients too quickly.

This was discovered by accountants PriceWaterhouseCoopers when it went over the hospital’s books to establish why it had a ‘deficit’ of £16.7m last year. Hospitals up and down the country had deficits of more than £600m in 2005-2006.

The situation in Ipswich highlights the fact that these deficits are not, as the Labour government’s propaganda suggests, because hospitals are not managing their finances properly.

They are caused by hospitals providing patients with the treatments they require, while the government refuses to provide the NHS with the funds for this. Funds are channelled to the hospitals through the Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), overseen by Strategic Health Authorities.

At Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust people used to wait up to 18 months but it treated government targets seriously and brought down waiting times. In one department patients only had to wait a week to see a consultant.

The people of Ipswich were very happy with this. However, East Suffolk Primary Care Trust, which have the funds and set up contracts to commission care, got Ipswich Hospital to increase waiting times to a minimum of 122 days. This way they could delay funds.

Patients needed care and the doctors and nurses at Ipswich Hospital provided high-quality treatments as quickly as possible.

The accountant’s report states: ‘The trust had spare capacity and, to ensure its resources were utilised, treated a number of patients in advance of the 122-day rule.’

In other words, hospital staff did not want to sit around twiddling their thumbs while there were patients needing attention.

The PCTs’ response to this was to refuse to pay £2.4m last year for treatments provided in less than 122 days, because this breached the hospital’s commercial contract with South East Suffolk PCTs.

The trade unions at Ipswich Hospital are outraged at this situation and a spokesperson said: ‘The PCTs wanted the work done; we did it and now they should pay for it.’

This is the madness of the capitalist market that the Tories introduced into the NHS, with the purchaser-provided set-up, and which the Blair government has expanded with a vengeance.

The Labour government has added payments by results (PbR), where every treatment is priced, and handed over NHS funds to businesses like private hospitals and treatment centres (ISTCs).

The high-profile case of pensioner Roy Thayers provides a glimpse of the future of the NHS under Blair. In 2003, Thayers was told by doctors at Hammersmith Hospital NHS Trust that the valves leading to his heart needed to be unblocked urgently.

The patient was told that the waiting time for a life-saving coronary angioplasty on the NHS was nine months unless he had £6,500 to pay to have it done the next day. Thayers gave them a cheque and got the treatment done. The cheque bounced and he is now paying £25 a month to clear his debt.

These scandalous situations at Ipswich and Hammersmith hospitals are a warning to patients and staff concerning the kind of NHS Blair and the Labour government are creating.

Hospitals are being run as businesses and large chunks of the NHS budget are being handed over to private healthcare corporations. Patients requiring certain treatments, or needing attention before the times set out in contracts, will be asked to pay.

The Trades Union Congress and NHS professional associations have announced a campaign against the privatisation of the NHS.

It is urgent at the TUC’s conference in September that motions on this issue must be amended to call for a one-day general strike to defend the NHS.

This must be followed by an all-out indefinite general strike to bring down the Blair regime and replace it with a workers’ government that will defend the NHS and kick out the privateers. The NHS must be restored to be a free, publicly-funded and publicly-provided, healthcare system for everyone.