No hospital safe

THE GIANT union Unite last week launched a digital campaign against Clause 119 of the Care Bill, now being rushed through Parliament, which would give the Secretary for Health the power to close any NHS hospital trust in the country, regardless of its performance, including its financial condition.

The clause — originally clause 118 — was introduced to the Bill after the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign staged a successful legal challenge to plans by the current Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to close maternity and accident- and-emergency services at Lewisham Hospital as part of a rearrangement of hospital services in south-east London aimed to resolve financial problems at other local hospitals.

Unite said: “Clause 118 (amended to 119) is being rushed through Parliament. If it becomes law the secretary of state will have won. Hospitals will be shut at the whim of Whitehall bureaucrats, without full and proper consultation with patients and the public, and without even any agreement from the new GP commissioning groups (CCGs).

“This means that even if your local hospital is successful and financially viable it can be shut if a neighbouring NHS trust is failing — no matter how vocal local opposition is to the plans. We can’t let him get away with it.”

The union is urging all supporters of the NHS to get in touch with their MPs to use their vote when the Bill has its Third Reading in the next two weeks to oppose this dangerous clause.

Unite fears that with one in five hospitals swamped by debt, dozens of hospitals could be at risk of closure within 40 days, leaving communities suddenly bereft of local health care.

Unite head of health Rachael Maskell said: “This latest assault by the Government is breath-taking, attacking not just the NHS in England but people’s right of protest too. Such is the Government’s haste to transfer our greatest public asset, the NHS, to the private sector; they are willing to trample over people and communities to do so.

“But even more worryingly input from clinical professionals is all but swept away. People need to know. Their hospital could close in a matter of days and there is not a single thing this Government will let them do to stop it. Your views are not wanted. No English hospital is safe.

“We only have days to stop this so we are appealing to people, take action — do not let this government take your NHS and do not let them gag you.”

Unite — which recently announced it would commit to a concerted leverage campaign to target the businesses exploiting the NHS — says that with 230 MPs, most Conservative, holding interests in the private health industry, the public can no longer trust the Government with the safe keeping of the health service.

Since April 2013 70 per cent of NHS contracts have gone to private and non-NHS providers, thanks to the government’s Health and Social Care Act 2012 which has unleashed a full blown competitive market into the NHS. No hospital safe

Meanwhile Hunt has passed a death sentence on the trust that ran Stafford Hospital — the subject of a damning report last year about standards of care in the hospital. The Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust is to be dissolved.

Jeremy Hunt announced Stafford and Cannock Chase Hospitals would retain 90 per cent of patient visits but they would now be operated by neighbouring NHS trusts.

In a partial victory for campaigners supporting Stafford Hospital, Hunt suggested it could keep its consultant-led maternity service depending on an NHS England review.

Local campaigners had made it clear that they wanted the hospital to be improved, not closed

Up to 1,200 people were found to have died unnecessarily at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2008 in one of the biggest NHS scandals.

Heath union chiefs said it was vital neighbouring trusts were given the finances to deal with the new responsibilities to provide care at the hospitals.

Christina McAnea, head of health for Unison, said: “It is bitterly disappointing for the local community who have campaigned for local services and have rallied behind the hospital, as well as for staff who have worked hard to turn the trust around.

“The facts show that patient care has improved massively and the staff survey, released only yesterday, showed that 73 per cent would now be happy with the standard of care at the hospital if a friend or relative needed treatment — higher than the 65 per cent national average.”