Socialist Worker

NHS crisis - patients and doctors hit back

Issue No. 1680

NHS crisis - patients and doctors hit back

'We have not got 10 years'

TONY BLAIR has been forced to promise to spend more money on the NHS. He says he will bring Britain's health spending in line with the average in the European Union. But his promises are too little, too late. Health secretary Alan Milburn even had the cheek to say, while patients were waiting on trolleys in hospital corridors, "it will take ten years" to put the NHS right. As Mike Stone, head of the Patients Association, says, "There are a lot of patients who have no time."

Blair is still trying to dodge any responsibility for creating the NHS crisis. But New Labour deliberately kept to tough Tory spending limits in its first two years in office. This meant that services were cut to the bone and staff left demoralised with insulting pay deals.

Now, as the NHS is on its knees, Blair is making his spending plans dependent on the continued growth of the economy. He says, "It will take time and people wouldn't thank me for taking risks with the economy." Why won't he tax the rich NOW? And while Blair promised more money for health, behind the scenes New Labour's spin doctors were doing their best to discredit Lord Winston, who savagely attacked Labour over the NHS last week. But consultants, doctors and experts backed Winston up. "The fabric of hospitals in some Third World countries is better than some of our own," said medical expert Sir Brian Jarman.

Dr Tipu Aziz from Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford wrote to Tony Blair to tell him: "As a consultant neurosurgeon/scientist I felt that the damage done to the NHS would hopefully be rectified, or somewhat limited, by voting in the Labour Party. I have found that these hopes have been dashed. Morale in hospitals, certainly in my own, is at the lowest I have ever seen it. I feel betrayed by a party I had put so much faith in and I still do not know what to tell my patients." And John Toy, the medical director of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, says, "The flu isn't the thing that has broken the NHS's back but it shows the delicacy of the way it copes day to day. The only way to change that is extra resources. Society has a role to play in terms of its healthcare. If it feels the government isn't doing enough it should raise its voice and demand it does something about it."

Why France spends more

FRANCE spends far more on healthcare than Britain. That is because French workers took to the streets in their millions in 1995 to defend public services. In 1995 French Tory prime minister Alain Jupp launched a major assault on the health and social security system.

This included devastating attacks on pensions, benefits and the health service. The assault provoked a huge explosion of strikes and protests, which effectively killed the Jupp Plan. The Socialist Party and its left wing coalition partners were then elected in a landslide victory in 1997.

But Socialist Party prime minister Lionel Jospin is also attempting to push through elements of the Jupp Plan. This has now provoked a new wave of resistance. Hospital workers across Paris took part in strikes and protests in the run up to Christmas. Last week 5,000 health workers marched through Paris. All seven health workers' trade unions have called for a national hospital strike on 28 January in protest at overwork, and to demand more staff and funding.

  • BRITAIN SPENDS just 6.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product on health. The European average is 8 percent. The British public sector spends 740 per person on health in a year. Germany spends 1,285. France spends 1,156.
  • BLAIR HAS promised to increase health spending by 5 percent a year until 2006. But senior health department officials believe that a 7 or 9 percent a year increase is needed to provide higher quality modern services.
  • PAY RISES for the majority of nurses are to be an insulting 3.4 percent. That is not nearly enough to stem the flood of nurses leaving the NHS. Nor will it fill the 15,000 nursing vacancies. The money will come out of existing budgets, which means local trust bosses could take the money from frontline services.

Blair puts PFI sting in tail

BLAIR SAYS the new money for the NHS will "have to be accompanied by reform". That means more PFI schemes - which mean fewer beds, worse services, and cuts in nursing and other health staff. A PFI scheme lies behind the tragedy of Mavis Skeet, whose cancer operation was cancelled four times due to bed shortages at Leeds General Infirmary.

The NHS trust which runs the hospital is currently trying to ram through a PFI scheme to build a new trauma unit and regional cancer centre. A health worker at the hospital told Socialist Worker: "The PFI scheme means there will be 250 fewer beds, including 130 beds specifically for the care of the elderly. The elderly are supposed to get care in the community in the future. Primary care trusts are supposed to provide for them - but we don't know what that means. Will they get the kind of nursing and care they get in hospital? Even if they all get looked after we will still have a net loss of up to 80 beds here. On top of that the support staff are threatened with privatisation schemes.

We have already suffered from swingeing cuts. We used to have 247 beds for the care of the elderly but the number has been cut to just 170. Then they wonder why they can't find the beds when there is a flu outbreak, which hits the elderly the hardest! That is the reality behind Blair's claim to be providing more hospitals and putting money into the NHS - less beds, demoralised and privatised staff, worse services for patients. And in the long term the public has to pay more for PFI schemes."

US system kills

MANY OF the right wing papers are pushing the idea that the only way to solve the NHS crisis is to resort to private health insurance. This would be a disaster.

It would create a two tier health system. The poorest and sickest would be left to underfunded public hospitals while the rich would buy the best health care. This is what happens in the United States. Some 44 million people in the US cannot afford any health insurance at all.

"MR BLAIR can't continue to blame everyone else but himself. Labour has been in office for nearly three years and the money could have been allocated before to avoid this situation ever arising."

  • JANE, daughter of Mavis Skeet whose throat cancer operation was cancelled four times

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Article information

Thu 20 Jan 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1680
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