There are occasional moments when you wonder what surreal landscape exists in the mind of a Tory. It can be glimpsed through the policies they inflict on the rest of us, of course – but now and then a response or comment is so evidently out of tune, so bizarre a non-sequitur, that it can only come from a person or party utterly detached from the reality the rest of us have to live with.
Such is the case with the government’s response to the deeply worrying news that 42 out of 96 hospitals who responded to a Freedom of Information request by the Labour Party said they had had to close the doors of their maternity units to new admissions last year – on a total of 382 occasions.
An average of more than nine instances each in a year, with the closures of undisclosed length – and an increase of 70% in just two years.
There are 138 hospital trusts in England with a maternity unit, so only two-thirds of trusts responded to the survey. If all 138 have similar issues – and those who failed to respond might have done so to avoid publicising even worse – then there were over 1,250 occasions last year when maternity units had to close their doors because of lack of capacity and resources.
A Labour press release blamed staff shortages caused by government cuts for the crisis in maternity units and our wider NHS – and the government’s response has to be heard to be believed:
“Well-rehearsed“?! Even Joanna Gosling can barely keep the derision out of her voice.
“It’s ok – we have a shortage of over 40,000 nurses in this country, but don’t worry! It just means units have lots of practice at closing!”
At a hugely vulnerable and vital time, a woman and baby arriving for delivery only to find the maternity unit doors effectively barred by government cuts and facing a journey of miles to the nearest alternative, will find little comfort in “we’ve got our door-closing procedures down pat“.
This is not a recent phenomenon. Hospital closures and downgrades have been putting pressure on remaining units almost since the Tories entered Downing Street in 2010, in spite of their campaign promise to protect the NHS – and maternity units have been closing their doors up and down the country ever since.
It’s hard to imagine a government more distanced and detached from the concerns and well-being of ordinary people – and terrifying to think that they’ll almost certainly find a way to get there.
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