NHS fight back

A broad alliance of practitioners, including nurses and midwives, and the British public are standing up and saying No! to the Cameron Government’s attack on their National Health System.

IT IS A REVOLT WITH INCREASING momentum that has been compared to the poll tax backlash that brought Margaret Thatcher down in 1990.

David Cameron’s conservative government has spent months trying to crash a radical bill, which would effectively privatise large swathes of the British National Health System (NHS), through the British Parliament.

Even before the legislation has been passed, radical surgery on the NHS is being conducted. A private company, Circle Health, has been contracted to take over the Hinchingbrooke Public Hospital in Cambridgeshire, and the government has been in talks with international health corporations about taking over 20 more.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warns that the NHS is heading for crisis point with 56,058 positions due to be cut. In England, the pace of job cuts has risen by more than 50%, with 48,029 NHS posts set to be, or already lost, since the RCN began tracking losses in April 2010. Less than a year ago, the figure was 30,873.

An RCN analysis revealed that clinical posts make up almost half of the total workforce cuts, with nursing posts accounting for more than a third of those earmarked to be cut.

The new bill not only allows privatisation, it drives it. The government has said it will raise the cap on the proportion of income British hospitals can make from private work from 2% to 49%. While existing law allows private involvement in the public system, the government’s bill will insist upon it.

BROAD COALITION ARISES

The broadest possible coalition has come together to oppose the bill. Health unions, the Royal College of Nurses, the Royal College of Midwives, the British Medical Association and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, have all called for the bill to be scrapped.

Ninety-eight per cent of the Royal College of General Practitioners support a call for the bill to be abandoned. Its chair, Clare Gerada, called the government’s plan “unsafe for patients”.

In a letter to The Lancet medical journal,150 members of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said “… if passed,we believe that the bill will have an extremely damaging effect on the health-care of children and their families, and their access to high quality, effective services. In our view, no adequate justification for the bill has been made.”

Even at managerial levels there are major concerns about the bill. The Institute of Healthcare Management, representing NHS managers, published the results of a survey showing that 87% of members say the bill is ‘fundamentally flawed’ and leaked internal NHS reports warning that the reforms run a high risk of reducing levels of safety and patient care.

Public opposition to the government’s plan is also escalating.An e-petition against the bill collected more than 100,00 signatures in four days. Among those who signed the petition were celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, England footballer Rio Ferdinand and TV star and author Stephen Fry.

PRODUCTIVITY:THE SAME TIRED ARGUMENT

The government’s health secretary Andrew Lansley has underpinned the argument for change with claims that the productivity of the NHS has fallen by 15%.

However an analysis by Nick Black, professor of health services research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, published in The Lancet, contradicted this.

While Lansley argued that productivity in NHS hospitals had dropped by 1.4% ayear despite the budget swelling from £60bn in 2000 to £102bn in 2010, Black said productivity had “almost certainly”risen in the past decade, with taxpayers getting more value out of the NHS.

“Despite such confident statements,rather than declining, the productivity ofthe NHS has probably improved over the past decade,” Black wrote. “To justify the reforms to the NHS that the Conservative party wanted to introduce, the claim of declining NHS productivity was necessary.”

Black listed substantive improvements in the effectiveness of the NHS:

A baby born in 2009 could expect to live three years longer than one born in 2000.

Far fewer people were dying in specialist procedures. Declines occurred in adult critical care (2.4% a year), dialysis (3.3% a year), and coronary artery bypass surgery (4.9% a year).

There were annual relative increases in the proportion of patients treated within four hours in accident and emergency departments (2.5% a year) and in the numbers operated on within 28 days of their operation having been cancelled for non-clinical reasons (10.4% a year).

These improvements saw a corresponding leap in the popularity of the NHS. In the annual British Social Attitudes survey, 70% of respondents reported they were overall satisfied with the NHS. This was the highest figure ever recorded – the lowest was 34% in 1997, at the end of the Conservatives’ previous period in office.