North East London Council of Action banner on the February 3rd demonstration to defend Whipps Cross Hospital
North East London Council of Action banner on the February 3rd demonstration to defend Whipps Cross Hospital

‘PRIVATE companies are raking in millions of pounds, leaving a black hole in NHS finances,’ UNISON – Britain’s largest health workers’ union – has stated ahead of the Saturday March 3 day of NHS protests.

UNISON issued a press statement on Monday, the same day that campaigners fighting £25 million of cuts at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth travelled to Downing Street, handing in a petition with 12,000 signatures on it.

UNISON said: ‘The drain on the NHS is threatening its very survival and so the union is calling “time-out’’ on Government plans for more private sector involvement – and for a full investigation into some of the obscene profits being made at the expense of the NHS.

‘A new report published today (19 February) by the union, “In the Interests of Patients?”, is a damning exposé of the damage being done by untested market reforms on hospitals up and down the country.

‘Radical untested changes are being imposed on the NHS, causing it to abandon its ethos of cooperation in favour of a more competitive approach.’

The statement quotes Dave Prentis, general secretary of UNISON, who said: ‘We are calling for time-out on the ever increasing use of the private sector in our NHS.

‘The Government is allowing multinationals to bleed the NHS dry, which is bad news for patients and taxpayers.

‘These companies are destabilising our NHS – leading to widespread financial problems.

‘Wards and whole hospitals are threatened with closure.

‘The jobs of nurses and health workers are disappearing.

‘Newly-qualified nurses and therapists are unemployed and desperate to put their training into practice.

‘Five billion pounds is going into the Private Sector Treatment Centres that are at the root of the problems.

‘We have the obscene situation of NHS scanners and equipment lying idle while Trusts struggle to survive under the “payment by results system’’, never knowing what their income will be.

‘No one can manage finances effectively if they don’t know how much money is coming in, so how can the Government expect hospital managers to balance the books?

‘Hospitals must now compete against each other and have been told by Government to spend some of their precious budget on advertising for patients.

‘Before the market gets a stranglehold on the NHS, we want a halt to privatisation and an independent review into the impact of the market on the NHS.’

UNISON’s report examines ‘the effects of the new market’ and concludes it is leading to ‘some serious consequences’:

• ‘inefficiency and higher costs, with increasing levels of financial instability;

• ‘service cuts and a reduction in the quality of patient care;

• ‘an undermining of the principle of equal access for all in need, with health inequalities intensifying;

• ‘a reduction in collaborative working and the sharing of good practice;

• ‘the disruption of sound workforce planning; and

• ‘a weak regulatory system with a frightening lack of public accountability.’

UNISON says in notes attached to the press statement:

• ‘The DOH (Department of Health) estimate that the redundancy costs arising from commissioning a patient led National Health Service will be in the order of £325 million.

• ‘Plans to transfer 45,000 operations from East Lancashire’s top four hospitals to private South African Company Netcare could cost the NHS £23m.

‘The transfer will leave doctors with not enough work, resulting in the cash strapped hospital authority losing money to carry out essential operations.

• ‘Moorfields Eye Hospital is using foundation freedoms to borrow £6m to set up a branch, not in the NHS, not even in the UK, but in Dubai.

• ‘In 2005 Netcare were paid £255,000 despite carrying out only £40,000 worth of work.

• ‘In 2006, the Department of Health acknowledged that procedures purchased under the Independent Sector Treatment programme cost on average 11.2 per cent more than the NHS equivalent cost.

• ‘The cost to the NHS of the Private Finance Initiative is £45 billion – enough to reverse all the present cuts.

• ‘An NHS Treatment Centre at Kidderminster in Worcestershire offered a broad range of services for short stay and day cases in areas such as ophthalmology, general surgery, orthopaedics and radiology.

‘A £14m purpose-built site that saw early success in reducing waiting lists could perform 15,000 procedures a year.

‘Yet despite operating well below capacity (3,000 procedures in its first year) a new ISTC run by Interhealth Canada was set up within the existing NHS site to provide extra capacity that was already there.

• ‘The Department of Health has estimated the additional infrastructure and transactional costs of introducing patient choice at the point of GP referral to be around £122m.

• ‘A contract signed by 28 PCTs in Trent and South Yorkshire showed the following: Contract value for 2004/05 was £13.4m – Actual uptake was £10.1m, showing a loss of £3.3m.

• ‘360 staff at Preston and Chorley Hospitals face the threat of redundancy because of controversial plans to set up a private health centre at a cost to the NHS of £16m in income.

• ‘Staff at the Royal Bolton hospital are protesting at plans to transfer 90 per cent of tests in ear, nose and throat, urology, gynaecology, general surgery and orthopaedics to private centres across Manchester, resulting in job cuts and a predicted loss of £3.7m.

• ‘The Department of Health estimate that by the end of November 2006, that only 62 per cent of nurses who completed training between May and September 2006 were employed and 66 per cent of midwives – both figures would normally be 100 per cent.

‘In physiotherapy that figure falls to just below 39 per cent.’

Bill Rogers, secretary of the North East London Council of Action, responded: ‘It indicates a total paralysis in this UNISON leadership. They’ve called for a “time out’’, that’s the words they’re using.

‘But a “time out’’ doesn’t stop the cuts and plans for more private sector involvement in the NHS.

‘That paralysis also indicates that they’re quite capable of accepting a continuation of this privatisation.

‘The union has got to do more than call for a “time out’’, it needs to call national strike action to call a halt to these cuts and privatisation.’

Rogers added: ‘Moorfields Eye Hospital is borrowing £6 million to set up a branch of the hospital in Dubai, which, if I am not mistaken, is the Middle East playground for the rich.

‘Because it is now a Foundation Trust, Moorfields has certain financial freedoms to borrow money on the financial markets and invest as it sees fit.

‘Yet in Moorfields itself, they’re actually putting a freeze on operations because of the financial crisis created by the government.

‘This amplifies the need for Councils of Action to press ahead with the defence of the NHS.