1 in 6 A&Es face closure

Striking junior doctors and supporters outside London’s North Middlesex Hospital – its A&E is now threatened with closure
Striking junior doctors and supporters outside London’s North Middlesex Hospital – its A&E is now threatened with closure

ONE in six A&Es across the length and breadth of the country are threatened with closure, according to research by the Health Service Journal (HSJ).

The HSJ warns that as many as 33 emergency departments across the UK face being shut by 2021 as £22bn is axed from the NHS’s budget, under Tory plans. HSJ said: ‘Thirty-three hospitals across 23 areas have an emergency department which may be closed or downgraded in this parliament.’

It added that in seven cases closure proposals have already been drawn up, with 26 more hospitals considering plans to close or downgrade services. The seven hospitals for which there are public plans for closure include Sandwell district general hospital in Birmingham.

Dave Wiltshire, Secretary of the All Trades Unions Alliance said: ‘We have already seen the closure of A&E departments across London and around the country. ‘The A&E, maternity and children’s ward at Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield, north London have been shut.

‘The maternity and Charlie Chaplin children’s ward have been closed at Ealing Hospital in west London and the A&E is threatened with imminent closure. The A&Es at Hammersmith and Central Middlesex Hospitals, also in west London, have been closed. We must act now to defend the NHS. That is why this Saturday’s All Trades Unions Alliance (ATUA) conference is so vital.

‘The unions must call national action to defend the NHS. Our conference will demand that the trade unions organise occupations to stop all A&E closures. We will also be demanding a re-call conference of the TUC to sack the present leadership which has just stabbed the RMT in the back and did not lift a finger to help the junior doctors in their fight.

‘We must have a TUC leadership that will call a general strike to bring down the May government and go forward to a workers government. We urge a massive attendance at our conference this Saturday.’

The effect that the mass closure plan is having on the surrounding hospitals has already been felt over these winter months. New figures show that nine out of ten hospitals are overcrowded this winter. Hospitals are meant to have no more than 85% of beds occupied. This is to minimise the risk of infections and delays in getting treatment.

Any more is considered an ‘unsafe level’, but the new figures show that 137 out of 152 hospital trusts have been above that level since the start of December. The Tory government, in an attempt to divert the blame for the crisis facing the NHS, yesterday launched an unprecedented attack on people from other countries using the NHS.

It announced that NHS hospitals in England will have a ‘legal duty’ to charge overseas patients upfront fees for non-urgent care if they are ‘not eligible’ for free treatment. From April this year, foreign patients will be refused operations unless they cover their costs in advance, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced yesterday.

Aislinn Macklin-Doherty, NHS doctor, BMA rep and and oncology registrar, spoke up against the government’s vicious attacks on the NHS and insisted that the NHS must treat everybody that needed it, no matter where they came from. She insisted that the NHS acting like border security guards to keep foreigners out was completely wrong.

She said: ‘This is an absolute drop in the ocean and it has been vastly exaggerated. If you look at the figures, we are talking about a few hundred million in a pot of £120 billion. Now the government is planning to cut nearly twenty per cent of the NHS budget, that is 22 billion pounds and we are not hearing that in the headlines. We are focusing on a very very small proportion of a minority issue. The other key thing is that health tourism has existed since 1948, it has not suddenly increased.’

She insisted that it was not foreigners that were causing the crisis in the NHS but the Tory government. She said: ‘The government want to focus all of the blame and focus a lot of unnecessary resources into preventing these patients accessing care. I think it is just totally distracting from the real issues, that the government is avoiding blame from the policies that they have introduced that are crippling the NHS.

‘We should not be aspiring to try and achieve a healthcare system anything remotely like the US health care system, which we know is one of the most expensive, inefficient, wasteful and unequal healthcare systems in the world. That seems to be the trajectory of travel with this current government.

‘What we need to be focusing on are the real issues, things like PFI (Private Finance Initiative) debts which cost the taxpayer £80 billion. Also the five to ten billion per year, which goes to keeping a market system operating. Billions are actually leaking out of the NHS and going into the hands of private companies which are increasingly taking over services.

‘Companies like Virgin, Circle, Serco and this is on top of the astronomical cuts to the NHS, this is what is causing the problem in the NHS, this is causing the humanitarian crisis not the very small minority of health migrants.’