Government’s NHS promises in tatters
Two stories published in the last few days should convince any remaining doubters that the Government’s promises to protect the NHS are in tatters. Cuts, growing waiting lists and the massive top-down reorganisation of the NHS are all taking their toll.
Research published by the Royal College of Nursing today finds that more than 56,000 NHS posts are set to be cut. Half of these are clinical posts and one third of them are nursing roles. Particularly worrying is the finding that the pace of cuts is increasing. There are also a number of associated trends of cutting hours and replacing experienced staff with cheaper workers at lower grades.
The second example is the u-turn on waiting lists. One of Andrew Lansley’s early decisions as Secretary of State for health was to relax the 18 week target for the maximum time between referral and treatment, as part of an overall move away from targets in the NHS. But last week it emerged that almost a quarter of a million patients (9.4%) on waiting lists at any time go more than 18 weeks without treatment. As UNISON pointed out in their response to the announcement, the cuts are an important underlying cause of growing waiting lists, and it does not seem that more resources will be made available to tackle the problem.
And of course, as all this goes on, the hugely damaging Health and Social Care Bill is still being debated in the House of Lords. Controversial votes on the role of the Secretary of State for Health and the autonomy of local providers have been postponed in order to avoid government rebellions. One of the key issues still to be debated is the clause that would remove the cap on the amount of money hospital trusts can make from private patients. The TUC and unions across the health service fear that removing the cap would further increase waiting lists, as cash-strapped hospitals allow private patients to jump to the front of the queue for treatment.
Members of the House of Lords have also been calling on Andrew Lansley to publish the risk register for the Bill, which the Information Commissioner has instructed the Department of Health to publish. Given the huge concerns about the dangers of the Bill that are uniting health workers , it is essential that the register is published to shed some light on the government’s own assessment of the risks.