Stop cutting A&E hospitals

by Daphne Liddle

AMBULANCE services and Accident and Emergency units throughout the country are struggling to cope with an “unexpected” rise in demand, even though winter has barely begun. Yet the Department of Health is steadily carrying on with its programme of A&E closures.

Last week, the first really cold week this winter, 436,299 patients attended A&E units in England, which is 30,000 more people than average. Only one in seven A&E units was able to meet the target of seeing 95 per cent patients within four hours of their arrival.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Last year ’s winter pressures on hospitals and A&E never went away — our health service is now running at capacity all year round, and a bad winter could spell disaster.

“Staff are working incredibly hard to care for record numbers of patients, but the system is failing both staff and patients.”

The reasons for the rise in A&E attendances are often related to cuts elsewhere in NHS and local health support systems, increasing homelessness and increasing hunger.

GP surgeries are also struggling to cope with rising demand from a population that is becoming less healthy than it was a decade ago.

The ruling class, which is aiming ultimately for the complete privatisation of the NHS, will welcome these statistics. They hope that patients suffering bad experiences at the hands of the NHS will welcome handing control of it to the private sector.

This of course will make the experiences of most patients far worse. But those who can pay will get a better experience and that is all the capitalists care about.

The gradual privatisation of the NHS is accelerating. A third of NHS contracts in England have been awarded to private sector providers since the service was reorganised in 2013, according to figures from a Freedom of Information request made by the [British Medical Journal].

Of 3,494 contracts awarded by 182 Clinical Commissioning Groups in England between April 2013 and August 2014, 33 per cent went to the private sector.

But the fight back is growing. A group of councils in north-west London have commissioned an investigation into the impact on the local communities of going ahead with the closure of another two A&E units in the area.

They have appointed Michael Mansfield QC to lead the probe. He was the high profile lawyer who chaired an inquiry into the planned downgrade of Lewisham Hospital’s A&E — a proposal that was quashed last year by a judicial review.

He will investigate whether there is a link between the closure of two casualty units — and the planned downgrading of two larger A&Es — and worsening delays for patients seeking emergency treatment. The inquiry has been set up by four councils concerned at the impact of the A&E closures at Central Middlesex and Hammersmith hospitals and longer-term changes at Charing Cross and Ealing hospitals.

Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council, said councillors’ “worst fears...had come true” after the closure of the two A&Es before a new department had been opened at Northwick Park Hospital. This is due to be up and running this month.

Campaigners against NHS privatisation notched up another success last week as the American weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin announced that it won’t be bidding to run chunks of the NHS in England after all!

A big online campaign and petition played a part in this withdrawal.

So there is every reason to keep up the campaigning — and to vote out the current Tory-dominated coalition next May. But even with a Labour government the campaigning will still be needed to hold it to its pledges to protect the NHS.