A town in revolt against PFI
THE TOWN of Kidderminster, about 15 miles south west of Birmingham, is up in arms about the government's private finance plan for the local hospital. Campaigners against the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme won eight seats on the local council this May, to add to the seven seats they won last year. Now they are considering whether to stand against the sitting Labour MP, who backs PFI. HAZEL CROFT reports.
"IF WE don't persuade Labour against PFI then it is going to break the NHS in the next few years. This is a true Tory policy and it is a disaster." That is Dr Richard Taylor's verdict on New Labour's Private Finance Initiative scheme. Socialist Worker met Dr Taylor in a brand new wing of Kidderminster General Hospital.
Yet under the name of the Private Finance Initiative and the "modernisation" of healthcare the hospital is to be butchered. The accident and emergency department is to be scrapped. The axe will also fall on the intensive care unit and all overnight beds-whether for medical patients, the terminally ill, pregnant women, the mentally ill or the elderly. "A new PFI hospital is due to be built in Worcester by 2002," says Dr Taylor. "But already key staff and services are being moved. They are due to close 16 medical admission beds this week. At the beginning of September the trauma and orthopedic departments will go. And at the end of September all inpatient services will be moved. It's absolutely devastating. When we close, people are going to be 18 miles from their nearest accident and emergency department. Some will be up to 35 miles away."
In the hospital coffee shop a noticeboard is dedicated to the campaign to save the hospital. Photos of the 10,000- strong demonstration in Kidderminster two years ago are pinned up, along with petitions and a photocopy of a recent Private Eye article which described the treachery of the local Labour MP, David Lock. Kidderminster is typical of the type of area Blair describes as "Middle England", and Lock was surprised to win the previously Tory Wyre Forest constituency in 1997.
At first Lock spoke out against the plan to axe the hospital. But last year he was appointed as parliamentary under-secretary to the lord chancellor. Ever since he has toed the government line and supported the PFI scheme.
Dr Taylor heads the campaign to save the hospital. "David Lock supported us at first," he says. "He spoke against the closure of Kidderminster at demonstrations. "But now our MP has become our biggest opponent. He recently sent out a circular to his New Labour faithfuls saying that this was the eighty third most marginal seat and he wants people to rally round him. I've got a message for him-it should be number one in the marginal seats. The terrible truth is that we don't feel we have an MP who represents us here any more. The anger among people is tremendous. In May 1999 seven independent 'Health Concern' councillors were elected in the Wyre Forest, with an average of 42 percent of the vote. The seven were joined by four independent candidates-all of them rebels from the Labour Party. They left the Labour Party because they were not allowed a free vote on the question of housing privatisation. Then in May this year eight more were voted in. That means we have 19 out of the 42 seats on the council. We upped our vote to 45 percent in the seats where we stood candidates. Three Liberals also got elected on the slogan 'Save our hospital.' So Labour now has just 11 seats on the council. Added together, those who oppose the PFI plan have just eight fewer seats than the Tories and Labour combined. We are now deciding whether we will put up a candidate in the general election. PFI is just a Tory idea. To me it's completely contrary to New Labour, to Old Labour and to any kind of principled belief."
"IT'S A bit like that film Brassed Off about when they shut all the mines down. The miners were stitched up in advance and all lost their jobs. That is what is happening here. Look at this new building. I bet that within two years it will be turned into shops and business units."
- BRIAN MORRIS
"SICK. THAT is how I feel about the closing of this hospital. They put pound signs before people. The government should be stopping hospital closures, but it seems like they are the ones pushing them through."
- ANN WOOD
"MY HUSBAND is nearly 70 and both of us need this hospital. There's no way we can get all the way to Worcester. What happens if he has a heart attack? How could I afford to visit him so far away? It is all about money to them, not about the likes of us."
- EILEEN PAGE
THE hospital's chaplain, Paul Brothwell, talks to many staff and patients in the course of his duties. He says, "One of the main things that people talk to me about is how disillusioned they are with the government. These are people who have voted Labour for years. "When New Labour were in opposition they were opposed to PFI. Now what is missing from the government is any social responsibility and care."
30% fewer beds
"NIGHTMARISH." That is how the authors of a recent devastating report, "Deficits Before Patients", describe the PFI scheme in Kidderminster and Worcester. It found:
- The costs of the new Worcester PFI hospital escalated by 118 percent-from 49 million in 1996 to 108 million in 1999.
- Bed numbers will plummet by 44 percent and 58 percent over the next two years.
- The number of NHS beds per head of population across the Worcester and Kidderminster area will fall to just 41 percent of the national average in England when the PFI hospital opens. Yet the new PFI hospital will be expected to treat 36 percent more of the population.
- 32 percent of ancillary workers and 17 percent of nursing staff are likely to lose their jobs.
Professor Allyson Pollock of University College London is one of the report's authors and a leading expert on PFI. She told Socialist Worker that bed cuts are the result of all the government's PFI schemes. "On average there will be 30 percent fewer beds. I recently got hold of a very interesting letter from the government to NHS chief executives which admitted that PFI is causing major bed reductions. This is a major admission by the government. They previously denied that PFI means bed reductions. If this is happening in health then PFI is having the same effect in schools, prisons, councils and elsewhere. But it seems the government just don't give a damn about the consequences of PFI."