Yet more threats to our NHS

by Daphne Liddle

THE THREAT of further privatisation looms even larger over our NHS after the publication last week of the Keogh Report into standards of treatment and care in 14 NHS trust hospitals that were all found seriously wanting.

The report was initiated following the huge scandal over the abysmal standards at the Mid Staff hospital.

The 14 to be investigated were chosen on the basis that their death rates were “higher than expected”. This is a criterion that is hard to define and much disputed among health experts. Eleven of the hospitals have been put into special measures.

Most of the failings related to inadequate staffing levels and/or poor training of staff.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt used the report to launch a scathing attack on the previous Labour government for allowing the faults to develop while Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham refuted his accusations and claimed the worst faults have developed under the Con-Dem Coalition.Both Labour and Tory government have been guilty of diverting billions of pounds of NHS spending into the hands of private companies — through PFI schemes some private hospitals to treat NHS patients.

More NHS millions have been lost by the introduction of bureaucracy that means all prescription medicines are supplied only by “approved” pharmaceutical companies — so that, for example, a packet of 30 cod liver oil capsules costs £89 to the taxpayer.

But the Con-Dem Coalition has gone much further and faster than Labour by restructuring the NHS so that “general practitioner dominated” (in reality private agency-dominated) local commissioning bodies are now in charge of the great bulk of NHS spending.

Hunt will undoubtedly be using the poor standard of care in some NHS hospitals to justify further privatisation.

How long before we get the propaganda campaign of the wealthy whingeing that they are supporting care and treatment for the underserving poor through their taxes?

Certainly it is in Hunt’s interest to portray NHS care — free at the point of delivery — as seriously flawed and failing. We must never forget that, while the NHS does have real flaws nevertheless countless thousands of people have a very good experience in NHS care and many of us would not be alive today without it.

And that the obvious way to maintain good standards is to reinstate the community health councils — independent elected local bodies that visited and inspected hospitals regularly and had the power to demand improvements where they saw failings.

Nursing unions were unanimous over the dangers of inadequate staffing levels. Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “We take this review incredibly seriously and have detailed examples of where we’ve raised concerns about patient safety in these trusts.

“There’s an undeniable link between nurse staffing levels and patient mortality and we can’t keep failing to address this issue. Only with the right numbers of nurses, with the right skills, can we ensure patients are looked after with dignity and compassion.”

The giant union Unite, which represents thousands of health workers, directly blamed the Tories.

Unite head of health Rachael Maskell said: “Since Jeremy Hunt took up his job 10 months ago, he has been like a handwringing spectator blaming everyone else for the problems faced by the increasingly privatised NHS, except himself. He needs to roll up his sleeves and take responsibility for what is happening under his very eyes.

“Compassion for the families whose loved ones needlessly died should be at the forefront of ministerial concern.

“As a first step, Jeremy Hunt should immediately introduce emergency legislation to parliament so he can resume responsibility for the NHS and sort out the expensive privatised dog’s dinner that is the Health and Social Care Act. The Tories wrote themselves out of being able to do anything to amend the act.”

The public sector union Unison warned that unless the Government commits to safe staffing levels in the NHS, patients will not get the top quality safe, compassionate, dignified care they need and deserve. And the British Medical Association, which represents doctors, urged the Government to put patients, not politics, at the centre of action.