by Sarah Rabbitts
On Thursday 11 July, the axe of Jeremy Hunt, the Tory Health Secretary, fell on yet another A&E. In an impromptu announcement to the House, Hunt confirmed cuts to Trafford General Hospital which even took Kate Green MP by surprise. The Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), Hunt explained, had finally chosen to downgrade Trafford A&E services to an urgent care centre that will be closed from midnight to 8am everyday.
Labour supporters will always be protective of the NHS. Labour created it in 1946, and it’s one of the most formidable successes of a British Labour government. It’s an even greater success if you look at the backlash Obama faced enforcing public healthcare in the US – despite being popular in his first term.
However, this is not just about protecting something that Labour established. The issue is that reducing the wrong healthcare services puts people’s lives at risk, and no one in Britain really wants to live in a country in which we invoice the under-privileged £150,000 for cancer treatment because they can’t afford healthcare insurance. That’s the reality if we don’t protect the NHS.
Under this government, Lambeth’s funding has been cut by 45% in total. This is damaging local authority provided services, like social care and leisure – the services which help the council keep people healthy and out of hospital. In addition, the government has scrapped minimum nutrition standards in schools leading many “free” schools and academies to feed their pupils junk worsening a health crisis that’s already putting a burden on our NHS.
Lambeth’s NHS specific budget cuts have inevitably lead to longer waits, fewer nurses and midwives. In addition, Hunt approved the closure of Lewisham Hospital’s A&E, despite a passionate local campaign. This is now putting massive pressure on King’s College Hospital in Lambeth, who are accepting more patients.
I have advised a number of companies on employee engagement during periods of organisational change. I’m confident that taking away annual salary increases and intensive training will de-motivate workers and will probably jeopardise employee performance in the NHS, and inevitably patient care. Recent reports, for instance, that Healthcare Assistants are being trained with DVD tutorials are also worrying, especially if it is right that these workers will be expected to take on greater responsibilities.
In London, the disproportionate allocation of funding to individual patients also doesn’t make sense. Lambeth currently gets £82 to prevent the illness of individual constituents while the City of London gets £192 – despite the fact that the City has a richer and healthier population.
Cuts are unavoidable. The NHS has £30 billion funding gap, and government will have to manage services differently in the future. What Labour needs to do is ensure that the government is making the right cost reductions, in the right places. Indeed, the consolidation of some specialist care units has proved successful, and we must recognise those successes. For example, Sir David Nicholson said that consolidating specialist stroke services in London means that the outcomes for patients are now some of the best in Europe. However, reducing A&E services, annual salary increases and providing inadequate training means that the cuts will put people’s lives at risk and the government must consider whether this is the right thing to do.
Having saved Clapham Fire Station, let’s hope that Lambeth campaigners will have the force to prevent any further cuts to local healthcare services and that Labour campaigners can fight to keep more of our services open across the country.
The Clinical Commissioning Groups are expected to provide a more detailed plans for meeting the financial challenge early in 2014.
Sarah Rabbitts is Lambeth activist and freelance campaigns and public relations consultant