Trade unions must act over NHS crisis by organising a general strike


HOSPITALS across the country are already running close to 100% bed occupancy and the full effects of winter haven’t even started to impact on the NHS.

Hospital trust chief executives have revealed that NHS hospital beds are as much as 99% full even before the onset of the predicted Arctic weather bringing with it a major flu outbreak in the coming months and are warning that patients would be harmed and staff left unable to cope as hospitals simply run out of beds.

One chief executive said: ‘We’re lucky to get below 99% bed occupancy rates. We plan for winter all year round, but there’s an underlying lack of beds and resources. There is a daily battle due to the lack of beds.’

The crisis in hospital bed numbers doesn’t just mean that patients will be turned away but it massively increases the risk of contracting infections for those fortunate enough to actually find a bed.

Health experts internationally agree that if more than 85% of beds are occupied in a hospital it increases the risk of patients being exposed to infections like MRSA as they are placed on wards that are unsuitable for their conditions and with overworked staff unable to provide the care they require.

A report issued yesterday by NHS Providers, the body representing NHS trusts, highlighted the cuts in staff warning that the health service is critically short of paramedics, GPs, A&E doctors and nurses.

They warn that this crisis situation is likely to be seized upon by the private staffing agencies who will seize the opportunity to hike up their profits by increasing the rates charged to the NHS for providing agency doctors and nurses.

100,000 beds have been lost from NHS hospitals under the Tory government as part of the deliberate strategy to create a huge crisis in the NHS, setting it up for privatisation. These losses are set to massively increase under the Tory Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs).

STPs are the vehicle which the Tories intend to use to close hospitals on a mass scale, shrink even more the number of beds under the guise of ‘centralising’ services, cuts which Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt insists are essential to ‘save’ £20 billion from the NHS budget.

Although the plans of these STPs are carefully kept secret from the public, it was revealed earlier this year that 19 hospitals, including five major acute hospitals, along with 24 A&E units across England have been marked for closure as part of the Tory plan to destroy the NHS and pave the way for complete privatisation of the health service.

The Tories are determined to try and drive the working class back to the days before the welfare state was established, of which the NHS was the greatest gain made by workers. In the face of this all-out war against the NHS, the response of the trade unions has been not just inadequate but downright treacherous.

Unison head of health Sara Gorton commented on the latest report from NHS Providers, saying: ‘Ministers must be honest with the public about how the funding shortfall will hit – with more rationing, longer waiting lists and fewer operations all on the cards. It is only through adequate funding and long-term planning that the NHS will ever be in a position to anticipate the winter months with confidence.’

It is not enough to call for the Tories to be ‘honest’. It is clear what the Tories plan for the NHS: manufacture a massive crisis by closing beds and hospitals, introducing fees for medical treatment so forcing people into the arms of the private health care industry and do away with the NHS completely.

The question for the union leaders is what are they going to do about it? The time is long overdue for the trade unions and TUC to end asking the Tories to stop attacking the NHS but to take action by calling a general strike to kick out this weak, crisis-ridden Tory government and go forward to a workers government that will defend and properly fund the NHS by nationalising the drug companies and the banks under a socialist economy.