Trolleys in corridors: only a matter of time

by Tom Keeley

The government’s “reforms” are not the most immediate threat to the NHS. The real term spending cuts are. In 2011, the health service will start to feel the effects of the Tory budget. Which will, inevitably, reduce the standard of care it can provide.

The Conservatives claim to have ring-fenced spending by essentially freezing the budget. However, the rising demand for and cost of healthcare means that funding needs to increase, at well above the rate of inflation, in order for the NHS to stand still.

The last seven years have seen the cost of staff pensions rocket from just over £6 billion in 2004 to over £17 billion in 2011. The cost of PFIs will increase by an estimated £7 billion over the next four years. Furthermore, the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, has demanded that £20 billion worth of “efficiency” savings be made, by the most efficient health service in the world, by 2014. And let us not forget the estimated £3 billion cost of the Tory health reforms.

These figures are bleak. But these easily quantifiable costs are not the biggest worry. This is reserved for factors on which we cannot yet put a price. This includes rising inflation and the financial pressure of more people with conditions such as diabetes and obesity. As the NHS improves its diagnostic ability, so the demand for and cost of treatment will increase too. These costs will likely match or exceed the costs detailed above.

For the NHS, a frozen budget means a real term reduction in the budget. A recently leaked letter from the independent challenge group, a government-appointed body of expert advisors, stated that the required savings could not be made through the quality, innovation, productivity and prevention framework. The savings will have to come from cuts in frontline services. It is therefore disingenuous for the government to claim that a microscopic increase in funding to the NHS constitutes the budget being ring-fenced.

This claim suggests a huge divide between the rhetoric in Whitehall and the reality of the ward. Over the Christmas break, Dr Peter Carter, the general secretary of the royal college of nursing, voiced a stark warning. Over half of nurses cannot currently provide the standard of care patients need due to time constraints. The recent request of staff to accept a pay freeze and the inevitable future reduction in staff numbers will only exacerbate this problem. Dr Carter warns that it may only be matter of time until we return to long waiting lists and poor levels of care. The Tory rhetoric of having protected frontline NHS services would be laughable if it were not so serious.

The Conservatives’ ideological zeal for cutting the size and spending of government will mean the decommissioning of treatments, fewer staff and people dying, stripped of their dignity, on trolleys in corridors. The funding crises of 1987 and 1976 were damaging: they cost lives. The crisis of 2011, 2012 and 2013 will cost many more. It has the potential to destroy our national health service.

Tom Keeley is a member of Birmingham Edgbaston CLP.

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5 Responses to “Trolleys in corridors: only a matter of time”

  1. LexA says:

    Yes, I agree. We need to be talking about the cuts in health. The Tories are using the reforms to give them cover for the reduction in spending.

  2. Mark Sturdy says:

    So your solution to the spiralling cost of the NHS is what exactly?

  3. ad says:

    “The last seven years have seen the cost of staff pensions rocket from just over £6 billion in 2004 to over £17 billion in 2011. The cost of PFIs will increase by an estimated £7 billion over the next four years.”

    In other words, the problem is not that the Tories are cutting the budget, but that YOUR lot left it with a rapidly increasing off-balance-sheet debt.

  4. Tom Keeley says:

    @ Mark Sturdy. Firstly, I think it is worth noting that the NHS is still a cheap and extremely efficient health service. France, Germany, Canada, USA, Switerland all pay more and get less for what they pay. I think if as a country we want to take advantage of the improvements in medical science and provide a health service that is equal and just, then we need to be paying 11-13% of GDP on the NHS – currently we are paying less.

    But, I do agree that the pace of the increase in budget is worrying. However, simply cutting the money and telling the NHS to “deal with it”, is not a proper way to do this. A restructuring that is focused at controlling cost and further increasing efficiency is needed, and has been need needed for 5 years. Unfortunately, that is not what was in the Health White Paper and one is yet to see a plan from the Labour party. I agree that any increase in the cost of the NHS needs to be slowed – however not like this and not while claiming that frontline services are protected.

    @ad. Thank you for the selective quoting – read on to the next sentence and the 20 billion that is being cut by this government.

    Whether you agree with PFIs or not, they will be a large factor in the budget pressure over the next 5 years, which has to be realised by the government. PFIs are expensive, possibly too expensive and over the next decade or so we will be be ale to see whether or not they were worth the money. But either way the they money has to be found. The point of this blog was not to defend the Labour record on health (although that would not be hard), rather an assessment of the current challenges, the spending and the consequences.

  5. The future of our NHS is in the hands of a Tory Leader who is not even trusted by his own Health Minister, and that is probably the most frightening part of these FRANKENSTEIN reforms.

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