The health service is “at breaking point”, the head of the King’s Fund think tank Chris Ham warned last week.
Writing jointly with Nuffield Trust head Nigel Edwards to the Guardian newspaper, Ham warned that the “NHS funding debate is in need of a dose of realism.
“Promises of jam tomorrow when the NHS is under severe pressure today…the parties must spell out when their pledges of extra funding will translate into hard cash.”
The NHS has dominated the general election campaign. The Tories and Labour have both promised more funding during the next parliament. But the health service is in the grip of a deep crisis after five years of Tory cuts and privatisation. It needs a sharp injection of cash and a reversal of privatisation.
The latest quarterly monitoring report from the King’s Fund is a damning indictment of the Tories’ running of the NHS.
It reveals a health service in fatal financial crisis, budget cuts hurting patients and staff morale at rock bottom.
Some 40 percent of NHS trusts are forecasting a deficit for the end of 2014/15 and 60 percent of finance chiefs admitted they relied on additional financial support, including loans.
Many hospitals are tied down with private finance initiative (PFI) debt. This blew up last month in east London’s Whipps Cross Hospital, which is facing a projected deficit of more than £100 million.
To deal with it bosses attacked hospital services, downbanded and sacked staff and attacked their trade unions.
Privatisation is breaking up the health service. A new list of approved providers to GP commissioning groups is dominated by privateers such as outsourcing giant Capita and US health insurance firm United Health.
And after it emerged that accident and emergency (A&E) departments are already having to use reserves earmarked for next winter, a new wave of A&E crises could be just weeks away.
Even NHS England boss Simon Stevens has admitted that the service is facing a £30 billion black hole.
He asked for £8 billion and promised to find the rest through “productivity savings”—cuts—as part of his Forward View plan.
Under pressure, the Tories have pledged to stump up the £8 billion. But it would mean cutting other public services.
Labour has pledged £2.5 billion more. But as Ham pointed out, £8 billion was the “bare minimum to maintain standards of care”. And spending on health is lower under the Scottish National Party in Scotland than it is in England and Wales.
Whichever party leader ends up in 10 Downing St, the NHS crisis will only get sharper.
Strike and march show mood to fight
Resistance to the attacks on the NHS can be built on under the new government. Protests and campaigns in the days running up to the election show the potential.
In east London more than 100 workers and campaigners filled a room to discuss their response to the crisis at Whipps Cross Hospital.
Porters at Ninewells and Royal Victoria hospitals in Dundee entered their fifth week of an indefinite strike against NHS Tayside bosses’ refusal to grade them properly.
Their Scottish National Party (SNP) MSP is Scottish health minister Shona Robison.
On one of Dundee’s biggest May Day marches in years the strikers chanted “Shona do your job” at SNP campaigners.
They are angry at reports of bosses hiring up to 200 “helpers” to scab on their strike.
There is still a mood to fight in the NHS. To unleash it, we need to generalise these struggles. They show the real alternative to the destruction of the health service.
More than 100 health workers and supporters marched from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital to Whitehall in central London on Thursday of last week.
The march, organised by the SE1 Health Workers group, was in opposition to attacks on unsocial hours pay in the NHS.
Marching on the department of health, they chanted “David Cameron hear us say—hands off our pay”.
The Tories plan to scrap unsocial hours payments to bring in seven-day working in the NHS. Labour has said it will keep them—unless a pay review body in June tells it not to.
Nurse Steph told Socialist Worker, “Nurses are just fed up with how we’re being treated.
“We want to be proud of the NHS again. All we get at the moment is bad press. But no one is really offering anything in the general election.”
There were also workers from the University College Hospital (UCH) in central London and Homerton hospital in Hackney, east London.
Unison union general secretary Dave Prentis pledged to fight any party that comes after unsocial hours payments.
This is how trade unionists and campaigners can build workers’ confidence and the sort of networks that can hold him to it.
Patients and staff hit hard
Patients are supposed to wait no longer than four hours in accident and emergency (A&E) departments.
But the King’s Fund report shows that the number waiting more than four hours has shot up by 69 percent since last year.
Patients aren’t just having to wait longer. The number left waiting in trolleys in A&E before being admitted into hospital was the highest for more than ten years.
The strain on the service is also hitting staff morale hard.
Poverty pay and rocketing workloads are pushing workers out of the NHS.
Attacks on their conditions will only make the crisis worse.