THE government’s hospital closure programme could be derailed if masses of people take to the streets, said Chris Hopson, the leader of NHS England’s hospital sector yesterday.
Hopson fears that massive public unrest will smash the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs), for mass NHS hospital closures, which are seen by Health Secretary Hunt as the only way to manage the NHS.
The government’s plans for the mass closure of hospitals and NHS units, supposedly by stealth, is now becoming a huge public issue. Hopson, the Chief Executive of NHS Providers, says that architects of the ‘secret’ schemes are failing to engage local communities, who ‘have the ability to sink plans they don’t support’.
He added for good measure that: ‘It’s very difficult for the NHS to proceed with wholescale change if you’ve got people out on the streets marching with placards and banners and saying “don’t do this”.’ Fundamentally you can’t make big changes to service provision without taking local people with you.’
The ‘provider’ sector ‘overspent’ by a historic £2.45 billion in the last financial year.
The country has been divided into 44 STP areas, with each ordered to come up with a proposal that closes the ‘unsustainable’ and privatises the rest. So far the plans involve the closure of one out of five of the south London hospitals. The hospitals threatened with complete closure are: St George’s in Tooting; Kingston; Croydon; Sutton’s St Helier or Epsom.
The North Tees STP proposal includes plans to ‘downgrade’ services at one of the three major hospitals in the area, turning the A&E into an ‘urgent care centre’ that cannot deal with emergencies. In Devon, health bosses are looking at whether to close A&Es, maternity and stroke services at hospitals across the county.
In Merseyside, there are plans to cut £1bn from health services and merge four hospitals – the Royal Liverpool, Broadgreen, Aintree and Liverpool Women’s, while in Birmingham and Solihull, maternity services are to be merged or shut. The fearful Hopson said on Wednesday that unit closures were too widely being regarded as a ‘silver bullet’ to make the ‘overambitious and undeliverable’ plans conform to tight budgets.
He added: ‘We have become obsessed by the money and not got the public engagement right. We are also trying to do it too quickly.’ Yesterday, the cuts, closure and privatisation gang, headed by Health Secretary Hunt met with the British Medical Association (BMA), to discuss the crisis that the discovery of the real nature of the STPs has caused after their secret launch.
As well, they will discuss the new NHS Confederation bosses’ report which says that cash-strapped NHS trusts cannot afford a wholesale expansion of services to put them on a seven-day footing – and that the public should be warned not to expect one.
‘Given the financial realities of the NHS and the wider system, our clear focus must be on those services which have the most impact in terms of outcomes for patients, rather than offering convenience,’ said the NHS Confederation, which represents all health service organisations. We must recognise the costs involved in delivering seven-day services and tailor our ambition accordingly.’
However, the establishment of a seven-day service is the government’s policy, contained in its last general election manifesto, and now championed by Health Secretary Hunt.
With the government, the ‘providers’ and the health managers at odds with each other, there is no better time for the trade unions to insist that the not-so-secret programme to cut, close and privatise the NHS is ripped up.
The TUC and its constituent trade unions must tell the government that if they do not withdraw this programme, the TUC Congress will be recalled to set the date for a general strike to bring down the government.