UNISON has responded to the Institute for Fiscal Studies review into NHS funding, and warnings that in future, patients may have to pay for some NHS treatment.
Christina McAnea, Unison Head of Health, said: ‘We warned when the Health and Social Care Act was still at the Bill stage that the last thing the NHS needed was to waste £3bn on an unnecessary and unwanted re-organisation, yet the government ploughed on regardless.
The government time and again failed to listen to the concerns of Unison, healthcare organisations, doctors and patients – and this review is a grim reflection of what we can expect if this austerity agenda is not brought to an end.
‘Making patients pay for treatment would be an attack on the very founding principles of our NHS.
‘These austerity measures are in place to solve problems caused by a reckless banking sector, yet patients and the NHS are being forced to take the punishment.
‘Today we have seen how patients are being referred for expensive private care because of waiting lists – lining the pockets of shareholders rather than reinvesting in NHS care. This is not good enough.
‘The National Health Service, paid for through national insurance contributions, turns 64 this week, and needs protecting more than ever.
‘Unison urges the government to act now, scrap this damaging austerity agenda and invest in providing good value NHS care to those who need it.’
Meanwhile, Nursing and Health advisors providing NHS Direct helpline services to Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire staged a 24-hour ‘Work In’ yesterday to highlight the threat to the vital health services that they provide.
Nursing and health advisers reported for work in their own time to take calls to highlight the valuable work they do and ensure that patients get the best possible quality of service on Thursday 5th July – which also marks the 64th birthday of the NHS.
The health advisers and nurses, working for NHS Direct based in Nottingham, will be the first in England to be replaced by the new NHS 111 sign post service at the start of August 2012.
Staff are deeply concerned about the affect this will have on patients and on health services.
The new 111 service has far fewer nurses taking calls – 75% of calls to NHS Direct are currently taken by a nurse, under the new 111 service only 17% will be. NHS Direct has two qualified nurses to every health advisor – NHS 111, has six health advisors for every nurse.
The 111 service will not clinically assess patients, or give them access to emergency dental or contraceptive advice.
Patients suffering mental health problems and engaged in self harm or depression will no longer be able to get the help they need by calling NHS Direct.
This will lead to more patients being sent to A&E, GP surgeries and more ambulance 999 call outs, and could see longer waiting times as these health services are pushed to breaking point.
‘Unison has also repeatedly requested that the Department of Health publish the findings of a report undertaken by Sheffield University into the new NHS 111 service which we believe highlights the likely impact on A&E and GP Services.’ said the union.
Sandra Maxwell, Unison NHS Direct Nursing Convenor, said: ‘Unison nurses and health advisors took action on 5th July (NHS Day) – the 64th anniversary of the founding of the NHS – to urge the Department of Health to stop rolling out the 111 service until it has been fully evaluated.
‘It must also come clean and publish its evaluation of the NHS 111 service.
‘The “work-in” by Unison nurses and health advisors is a visible sign of our real concern for patient care.
‘We are maintaining services to the public and Unison nurses reported to work to take extra calls in their own time.
‘Many responded positively to that call.
‘Those living in rural areas seeking advice on injuries they have had or their child’s illness, will have little option but to travel long distances to attend A&E, when advice previously given by a qualified NHS Direct nurse may have resolved the issue.’
Michael Walker, Unison National Officer, said: ‘Unison has repeatedly called on the Department of Health to publish the Sheffield University evaluation into the NHS 111 pilot services and to undertake formal public consultation on the closure of NHS Direct, with the public, GPs and health professionals.
‘Despite a legal requirement, this has not happened to date.
‘Unison is particularly concerned that the new 111 service has fewer nurses available to take calls and therefore unqualified staff will be unable to carry out vital “clinical assessments”.
‘This will inevitably lead to a huge increase in people turning up to A&E departments, to ambulance call outs and more patients being referred to GP surgeries.
‘We fear that the increased volume of patients going to A&E departments will push many to breaking point’.
Unison estimates 50 extra patients a day could present themselves to A&E departments, with 1,000 extra ambulance call-outs (costing £800 a time).
However, there is no point in Unison demanding that the Tory-led coalition scrap its austerity agenda since the survval of capitalsm depends upon it.
Likewise, ‘work-ins’ will not shift the government.
At the moment Unison and other health organisations such as the doctors’ union – the BMA – are calling for a pause in the implementation of the 111 service in order to consider the implications for urgent ‘Out of Hours’ care as a whole.
However, there is no doubt that much more serious action is called for if the NHS and the Welfare State are to be saved from the Tory-LibDem demolition operation.
Members of the NHS trade unions must demand that their leaders unite to demand that the TUC brings out all unions in a general strike to bring down the coalition.
Leaders who are not prepared to carry out such action must be removed and be replaced by those that will.
Once the coalition is down it must be replaced by a workers government that will nationalise the banks and the major industries and carry out socialist poclicies.
This is the only way forward to stop the bosses and bankers loading the whole of the economic crisis onto the backs of the working class and the poor.