The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 24th February 2017

30,000 deaths and now more NHS cuts

by Daphne Liddle

RESEARCHERS at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University of Oxford, and Blackburn with Darwen borough council last week claimed, in two articles published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, that an unprecedented increase in “excess deaths” in England and Wales could be linked to underfunding in the NHS and the social care system.

This comes just as the Government is about to launch a five-year plan of more cuts to the NHS. The proposals — known as sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) — have been drawn up by local health authorities as part of NHS England’s strategy to release £22 billion of “efficiency savings” by 2020.

Professor Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The impact of cuts resulting from the imposition of austerity on the NHS has been profound. Expenditure has failed to keep pace with demand and the situation has been exacerbated by dramatic reductions in the welfare budget of £16.7 billion and in social care spending.

“The possibility that the cuts to health and social care are implicated in almost 30,000 excess deaths is one that needs further exploration.”

The researchers examined other possible explanations for the deaths, including data inaccuracies, whether there had been a major epidemic, or “environmental shocks” such as wars or natural disasters. But they concluded that “the evidence points to a major failure of the health system, possibly exacerbated by failings in social care.”

The Government has tried to trash these embarrassing reports, calling them a “triumph of personal bias over research.”

Traditionally governments — Tory, Labour and Coalition — have argued that hospital cuts and closures have improved medical care by concentrating hospital care in fewer and fewer “centres of excellence” — ignoring the problems of accessibility for patients and ambulances.

In this latest round of proposed cuts, however, they are claiming that care levels will be improved because patients are better off “in the community” — even though funding cuts to local authorities and GP services have put both into deep crisis this winter.

But the Government now aims to bring local authority healthcare and GP services together into “super-hubs”.

A Department of Health spokesperson said that extra money was being invested in the NHS this Parliament. “These NHS plans — developed by local doctors, hospitals and councils working together with the communities they serve — will help patients get better care,” he added

The King’s Fund think tank warned that the new plans were “not always credible” because there were not enough services outside of hospitals and there was a lack of money to invest in more. It warned that community services were already “feeling the strain” and could not currently cope with an increase in workload. They also said that further reductions in the number of hospital beds could de-stabilise services that were already “stretched to their limits” following the difficult winter.

Prof Chris Ham, the King’s Fund chief executive, said that the planned changes could not be done without extra funding — and urged the Government to find the money to invest in the services to enable transformation to happen. A £1.8 billion pot set aside this year for funding transformation had already been swallowed up by deficits, according to figures released on Monday.

The proposed cuts mean that services in nearly two-thirds of England could be cut or scaled back. They include everything from full closures of hospitals to cutting some specialist services such as accident and emergency (A&E) and stroke care.

In total, 44 local plans have been drawn up across England and 28 of these include some form of cuts.

These include: