No 1712 2 September 2000
August beds crisis
Chaos hits private finance hospital
The first ever hospital built under New Labour's Private Finance Initiative (PFI), Cumberland Royal Infirmary, has become a disaster zone. It shows how the government's flagship PFI policy, which allows private firms to rake in profit from the NHS, is butchering the health service.
The Cumberland Royal Infirmary in Carlisle, which Tony Blair opened in 1999, has cut the number of beds by over 60. Now this August the hospital has been suffering "bed jams" and running at full capacity.
If there are not enough beds in August, one of the quietest months of the year, think what it will be like in winter. On top of this two ceilings have collapsed because of cheap plastic joints, and narrowly missed hitting patients in the maternity unit.
The sewage system overflowed and sewage flooded an operating theatre. On summer days temperatures reach over 33C because the hospital has no air conditioning.
Two windows have blown out of their frames. One of them showered glass over a doctor and nurse. Yet Amec, the main construction firm behind the PFI scheme, is reaping in profits-the firm's shares have leapt 40 percent over the last six weeks.
The NHS will pay the PFI consortium some 11 million this year. "We could be paying well over 500 million for a hospital which only cost 67 million," one Cumberland "insider" said.
Cumberland is not alone. Every PFI hospital is proving to be a disaster. The 177 million Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford, built under the PFI, opened to patients just two weeks ago. Now it has cancelled all non-emergency operations because of problems with sterilising equipment and missing surgical instruments.
The new hospital has 75 fewer beds than the hospitals it replaced. The British Medical Association says that some 5,000 beds will have been slashed when the 38 PFI hospitals currently planned are built.
The PFI disaster blows a hole in Tony Blair's claim to be rebuilding the NHS. A survey of 150 health authorities warned this week that the NHS is heading for a winter crisis which could bring the NHS to the brink of collapse because of a shortage of beds, staff and flu vaccine.
But in the West Midlands a group of workers are fighting back and standing up to the private firms who want to rip off the NHS. At Dudley Group of Hospitals a PFI scheme means the loss of 70 beds, the demolition of hospitals and the loss of up to 170 jobs. Health workers there are set to start seven days of strike action this Sunday 3 September to keep their jobs in the NHS.
Everyone should get behind their fight and demand the government puts an end to the PFI madness.
- Send messages of support and donations to Union Offices, Wordsley Hospital, Stourbridge, West Midlands DY8 5QX. Phone/fax 01384 244350. Cheques payable to UNISON Dudley Group of Hospitals.