‘My personal view is the unions should be up in arms over the number of beds lost in the NHS,’ East Surrey UNISON official Zina Dodgson told News Line yesterday.
She was responding to the revelation that 32,000 beds have been lost in NHS hospitals since 1997.
A parliamentary answer also reveals that more than 8,400 beds were cut in the year ending March 2007, the largest fall in 14 years.
One in six beds has been closed from 1997 to March 2007.
There are now 167,019 beds in NHS hospital wards, compared with 198,848 in 1997.
Dodgson added: ‘I am not surprised. We lost beds at our hospital in Crawley.
‘Since the district general hospital has been given over to the PCT, it’s lost major departments like A&E, maternity and paediatrics.
‘What we see are the advent of private treatment centres.
‘New Labour is not a socialist government but that does not absolve it of responsibility for the welfare of the population.’
Royal College of Midwives national officer Sue MacDonald said: ‘We feel the cuts have gone too far.’
News of the extent of the bed cuts, year after year, comes at a time when overcrowded wards have seen increased rates of ‘superbug’ MRSA infections, killing large numbers of patients.
Bed cuts year after year at the same time as a rising demand for NHS hospital treatment on a year on year basis, allied to the privatisation of NHS hospital cleaning, are being blamed for the epidemic of super bug deaths.
At a number of hospitals ambulances with patients are held parked outside overcrowded A&E departments until a bed is available.
A Patients’ Association spokeswoman, Katherine Murphy said: ‘This is a national scandal – more than 30,000 beds lost at a time when demand is increasing.’
Meanwhile, Chan Wheeler who became Commercial Director General at the Department of Health in June 2007, has quit to face fraud charges in the US.
Prior to joining the DoH, Wheeler held various senior posts at the US-based United Health Group and its subsidiary, Uniprise.
Before working at United Health, Wheeler worked in executive positions with private health companies, CIGNA HealthCare and Maxicare Healthcare Corporation.
The DoH had seen his CV as containing the pedigree to drive the government’s NHS privatisation programme forward.
The DoH said that the Commercial Directorate was set up in June 2003 to ‘work closely with ministers, other Department officials and the NHS to gain the best value for money in areas of expenditure and to provide a core interface for negotiations with the independent sector’.
It added: ‘Since its inception, the Commercial Directorate has led a number of independent sector programmes. . . and seen over one million NHS patients benefit from diagnostic procedures, elective surgery, and primary care to date.’
It adds: ‘The Commercial Directorate supports the NHS with the commercial expertise and knowledge to deliver local procurement activities, and its new market management role, working closely with SHAs.’
• Second news story
BANKERS GET £12.6 BILLION BONUS
The Governor of the Bank of England and the Chancellor must ‘stop the rip-off of taxpayers and consumers’ said the GMB trade union yesterday.
GMB General Secretary, Paul Kenny, responded to official figures showing that City bonuses in the first three months of 2008 amounted to a record £12.6 billion.
He said: ‘There can no longer be any doubt that the multi-millionaire elite who run the City and the financial sector are out of control and divorced from economic realities facing their fellow citizens.
‘GMB want an urgent enquiry as to whether the £50 billion bail out to banks from the taxpayer is being used to fund these bonuses which defy economic gravity.
‘The Governor and the Chancellor must also look at speculative manipulation in the oil market and the extent to which it is driving prices up.
‘We need to know how this speculation is impacting on prices.
‘We need the Labour government to stand up for the taxpayer and consumers against this elite.
‘There should be a higher tax band for this elite and if they don’t like it we are better off without them.
‘Those profiting from higher oil prices and speculators in the oil market must face a windfall tax which can be used to reduce fuel taxes at the forecourt.
‘The Tories will not follow the government on this since the elite are their mates.
‘They have just appointed Tim Parker, the private equity buccaneer, who took out £30m from AA as he saddled it with £4.8 billion of debt as number two to the Mayor of London.’