I wrote recently about my FOI request to South Tees NHS Hospitals Trust regarding any plans for job cuts and privatisation of services, and then about the impact of those plans, as an illustration of the kind of ‘overstretch’ the government is deliberately inducing in the NHS as an excuse for accelerated privatisation.
STHNHST generally gives good answers to FOI requests, and its responses to me detailed the services already conducted by private providers, while advising that no further tendering of existing services was currently planned. The responses also detailed how staff would be lost to some functions but that they would be placed into the new, extended services to be offered in trauma, neurosciences, cardiothoracics and cancer care. Offering such intensive and extensive new services with an almost unchanged staffing resource will inevitably overstretch that resource.
The Trust answered my questions in considerable detail. However, while I don’t apportion any blame for it answering only the question I asked and not a closely-related one, it’s clear that there was a lot more going on, if I’d only asked a slightly different question.
In today’s local paper, it was announced that STHNHST is considering offering private services from the Trust’s main hospital, James Cook University Hospital – including radiology services from the very same, new cancer treatment facility that is being opened and which was mentioned in the response to my FOI request.
So, we have a situation where staff have been ‘efficiencied’ from other NHS wards in the NHS hospital to work in a new NHS cancer treatment centre built with NHS money – which then provides private services.
To be fair to the Trust, I have no doubt that they feel forced into considering these measures by the government’s demand for economies and its Act opening up NHS facilities to private patients. The Trust has also said that it will only ‘only go ahead with the controversial scheme if it can be shown it won’t damage NHS services’.
But given the already-overstretched resources that were stretched still further to staff the new facility, there is no way that private patients could be accommodated without an impact on NHS patients. Even if additional staff are taken on to take care of private patients, there is never a shortage of demand for cancer treatment and the new centre will only have so much space and equipment to go around. As funds are cut further under the coalition government or (God forbid!) a future Tory government, can anyone really say that managers and clinicians won’t face pressure to prioritise paying patients above NHS patients who will represent a cost rather than an income? The Trust has already been told to save £69 million over the next three years – fitting in private patients is clearly being seen as a way of achieving this, and it can only be done at the expense, however well disguised, of NHS patients.
In a civilised country that has always been proud, since the foundation of the NHS, of providing healthcare free, at the point of need, nobody should be expected to pay for cancer treatment or feel under any threat that someone else might be treated in their stead if they can’t or won’t pay – it’s a hideous form of exploitation of people at their most vulnerable. But if people want to pay for private treatment, there are already plenty of private hospitals they can go to – they don’t need to compete for space and time at NHS facilities.
This is definitely the ‘thin end of the wedge’ and exactly in accord with the government’s aim of NHS privatisation by stealth if it can’t achieve it overtly – and we need to fight it.
I joined the South Tees Trust some months ago so that I’d be in a position to have some kind of voice on exactly such matters, and I’ve already written to them to state my objection and to ask when a discussion of the matter will be available to Trust members. If you live in the Teesside area, I’d urge you to do the same (whether you’re a Trust member or not, you can still write and object via the Trust website).
If you live in a different area, join your local Trust and keep a careful eye open for similar news. Whether it’s by forming a cartel to attack wages in the South-West or pressuring Trusts in the North-East to introduce private services, the war is going on – the government is attacking the NHS and won’t be satisfied until it’s all in the hands of private profit-makers. It’s essential that those who value our NHS unite and defend it in whatever way they can, whether nationally or locally.
And if you want to send a message to the government to tell them what you think of the odious Act that paved the way for the assault, you csn do so by signing this petition and getting those you know to do the same. Please do!