|The News Line: Editorial
Saturday, 1 April 2017
No ‘trade-off’ for the NHS: Kick out the Tories instead!
THE HEAD of NHS England, Simon Stevens, yesterday released the report ‘Next Steps on the NHS Five Year Forward View’, a report that makes it crystal clear that the next step for the NHS, as far as he and the Tories are concerned, is nothing short of the total destruction of the health service.
All the usual flannel about it being ‘an ambitious plan for reform and transformation’ cannot disguise the fact that what is planned is the mass closure of A&E departments, stopping funding for life-saving drugs on the NHS and the wholesale cancellation of operations.
According to Stevens, this is the only way to deliver ‘improvements’ to an NHS that has been systematically driven into the ground by Tory austerity cuts to funding to the extent that its budget is growing at the slowest rate in its entire 69-year history.
The plan Stevens intends to force through includes replacing hospital A&E departments with 150 ‘urgent care centres’ and forcing GPs to work harder in order to try and release as many as 3,000 hospital beds by sending patients home to be cared for by overworked general practitioners.
The charity Age UK was absolutely correct when it said that this would lead to ‘misery and pain’ for older people. Given that there is already a massive shortage of GPs in communities across the country, his proposals will make the working life of those remaining intolerable. This is not the only ‘trade-off’ that Stevens is proposing.
Hospital waiting times will increase and ‘hundreds of thousands’ of patients will no longer have the luxury of being referred to hospital consultants, as GPs will be forced to use alternatives, although what these may be, apart from physio for injuries, has been left vague.
On waiting times, Stevens had this to say: ‘There will be a trade-off here – we do expect there will be some marginal lengthening of waiting lists, but this will still represent a strong, quick experience compared to 10 years ago.’
Who is Stevens trying to kid? Waiting times in hospital A&Es have reached the highest levels, way beyond all the four-hour targets set by the government, while currently more than 360,000 patients on the waiting list for operations have waited well over the 18 weeks in which they are supposed to be seen.
This is one in ten of all patients awaiting an operation, a figure that doubled in four years. As Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons in England, observed, these delays could have serious consequences: ‘Our concern is not only for hip and knee patients but those patients who perhaps are waiting for heart surgery. They may have a heart attack whilst they are waiting.’
Stevens blithely announced that he fully expected things to get worse over the next couple of years but it would be better than ten years ago. Try telling that to someone waiting now for a life-saving operation.
At the same time, the cap on expensive new drugs will mean that they will not be automatically prescribed while GPs will be banned from prescribing what are described as ‘low-value’ medicines to their patients.
The other thing that Stevens was most insistent about was that he had absolutely no intention of asking the Tories for an increase in funding for the health service. At the start of this five year plan he asked for £8 billion extra funding for front-line services to help off-set the cuts made by the Tories. What he got was this money raised out of cuts to every other part of the NHS.
Now he is asking for nothing extra in the full knowledge that the Tories will give nothing to the NHS as they prepare the conditions for the complete privatisation of the health service.
The only trade-off that is acceptable to the working class is to trade in this Tory government by replacing it with a workers government that will nationalise the banks and pharmaceutical industries under a planned socialist economy that will ensure a free NHS with the most advanced treatments and drugs available to all.
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