We need more doctors and nurses not less

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AS a result of Tory and Labour health reforms designed to break up the NHS, we now have thousands of unemployed nurse graduates and junior doctors. We are also being told by Labour that there are just too many hospitals and that everybody will be better off when they are closed and replaced by a few super-hospitals, with care being administered to those in need in the community.

The reality however, presented by the epidemic of MRSA infections in many hospitals, and the deaths that are being ascribed to the lack of attention and lack of training on how to deal with patients who have learning disabilities, points to the opposite.

There are in fact not enough hospital beds, and not enough trained nurses and doctors to be able to give the necessary attention and treatment to the most needy patients.

While Labour has decided that health care is far too expensive and that it must be rationed, with those in most need hidden away in the community, the reality is that there is an acute shortage of beds, nurses and specialists of all kinds.

216 NHS trusts in England now have bed occupancy rates of over 85 per cent, well above the prescribed safety levels.

The government itself says that the struggle against superbugs cannot be successful unless bed occupancy is below 85 per cent.

The Department of Health has now found that MRSA infection rates are 42 per cent above average in hospitals where occupancy rates are 90 per cent or over.

Hospitals are now overcrowded with patients being sent home early so that they do not block beds needed by incoming patients.

With the numbers of hospital beds being slashed, the rise of MRSA is inexorable.

Meanwhile, the charity Mencap has reported that people with learning difficulties are not being treated properly in this situation of over crowded hospitals, overworked staff and mass sackings of just qualified nurses and junior doctors.

An independent inquiry is to be launched after the charity highlighted six deaths of people with learning disabilities in NHS care.

Mencap’s report says there is widespread ignorance in the NHS which has resulted in ‘institutional abuse’, where necessary care was not given because of the person’s disability.

Mencap makes the point that the NHS staff who were looking after the six cases may not have consciously discriminated against the patients, but that there is a lack of training and understanding of how to care for people with learning disabilities.

One of the cases described by Mencap is that of Martin Ryan age 43 who went without food for 26 days while in hospital following a stroke leaving him too weak to undergo surgery. He died in 2005.

Another was that of Tom Wakefield 20, who was given no care for stomach pains and died of pneumonia and reflux problems in 2004.

Yesterday, Dame Jo Williams, Mencap’s chief executive, said people with a learning disability continued to receive worse healthcare than those without a disability.

The response of Health Secretary Patricia ‘Humbug’ Hewitt was ‘I was shocked to hear of these findings concerning people with learning disabilities’.

Well if you slash beds, sack thousands of staff, and close hospitals using pricing mechanisms to do so, what does she think is likely to happen.

This is nothing to what is going to happen if Blair and Hewitt are successful in closing the main District General Hospitals. Care in the community will amount to being out of sight and out of mind, as the sick die at home, far away from proper treatment and the public gaze.

The trade unions must take action to defend the NHS. Every trade unionist should join the junior doctors demonstration next Saturday in central London.

The trade unions must organise strike action to bring down the Blair-Brown government, to bring in a workers’ government that will see health care as the number one issue, and nationalise the banks and the drug companies to be able to finance it properly.