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NHS round-up: Ministers press ahead with health budget squeeze

Issue No. 2031

New Labour’s smears

Campaign group Health Emergency has challenged the government to identify a single one of the 29 major acute hospitals facing early closure or downgrading where the axing of key services isn’t being driven by a major deficit in the local NHS budget.

The challenge came the day after Tony Blair and the IPPR, a New Labour think-tank, claimed that service closures at local hospitals were about long term planning and not money.

Geoff Martin from Health Emergency also hit back at the IPPR’s allegation that local campaigns to fight A&E closures will leave a thousand patients dead on the streets.

“The IPPR are nothing more than cheerleaders for the New Labour government,” he said, adding that their “smears” would “simply spur more people on to join the campaigns to save the NHS”.

Problem accounting rules to stay

The department of health confirmed this week that it will not scrap accounting rules that have plunged some NHS trusts into deep deficits and triggered tens of thousands of job losses as well as service cutbacks.

Under “resource accounting and budgeting” not only does any spending over the budget have to be paid back, but the same amount is knocked off the budget for the succeeding year.

As a result a £10 million overspend on a £100 million budget has to be paid back from a budget that has been reduced to £90 million.

A £9 million deficit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich could be turned into £99 million – three quarters of its total budget – within five years.

Protests to defend the NHS were to take place in several towns and cities across Britain on Friday this week.

Whipps Cross hospital success

Health campaigners fighting to save Whipps Cross hospital in Leytonstone, east London, have won two important battles in the war to defend NHS services.

The trust has decided not to close a threatened ward and the group consulting on healthcare in the area will not make closure of the hospital its “preferred option”.

Unfortunately this means increased threats against the nearby King George hospital, and campaigners will have to fight to save this site. However, this is a clear victory for the campaign around Whipps Cross.

The second piece of good news is that the Whipps Cross trust board has decided not to close Conifer Ward, although it will not be retained as a specialist ward for the elderly.

This decision is put down to the sheer volume of admissions, but is also another victory for the campaign.

The next demonstration called by the campaign is set to take place on 3 February, when campaigners will march from the hospital to Walthamstow market square.

Campaign moves onto offensive in Epsom

Campaigners and trade unions fighting the closure of the maternity and neonatal unit at Epsom hospital have called for a major offensive in the new year against service cuts that will put mothers’ and babies’ lives at risk.

The plans to close maternity, women’s and children’s services at Epsom are part of a £24 million cuts programme at the Epsom and St Helier NHS trust.

It will see the loss of over 200 beds, nearly 500 staff and will pave the way for both Epsom and St Helier Hospitals to be downgraded to “care hospitals” in line with government policy announced last week.

Manchester cavalcade

Some 85 cars took part in a motor cavalcade through Manchester on Tuesday of last week, marking the beginning of a consultative ballot of Unison union members in community health services.

The ballot comes in the face of massive health service cuts planned for the area. If workers vote to say they want action, the consultative ballot is likely to be followed up by an official strike ballot early in the New Year.

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Sat 16 Dec 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2031
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