Socialist Worker

Closures as hospital PFI debt crisis gets worse

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2465

Workers at St George’s hospital on strike against poverty pay last year

Workers at St George’s hospital on strike against poverty pay last year (Pic: Ben Windsor )


St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in south London is the latest to face a financial meltdown.

NHS watchdog Monitor said the trust has a £46.2 million deficit—and is likely to apply for a £52 million bailout.

The watchdog has also said it breached its “licence”, on upholding patient care, and has threatened to change its management. 

Hospitals trusts are in the grip of a deadly financial crisis that’s hitting both workers and patients hard.

Bosses have even shut hospital wards and operating theatres as the NHS’s staffing crisis spirals out of control. Poverty pay and rocketing workloads are pushing workers out of the health service.

The huge Barts Health NHS Trust in east-London is already deep in crisis. It now has 1,200 empty posts—that’s one in five of its nurses and midwives. 

Interim chief nurse Jan Stevens admitted that, “It’s like a perfect storm”. 

East London health campaigner Jim Fagan spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity. He said, “The staffing crisis is particularly bad in Barts Health because of the way management tried to deal with ballooning private finance initiative (PFI) debt.”

PFI was a scheme introduced by New Labour to pay for new hospitals and other public services through lucrative loans from private financers. 

No sooner was Barts Health formed in 2012 through a merger of five NHS trusts, then its bosses began ramming through millions in cuts. 

Operating 

Jim said, “They tried to deal with the crisis by slashing workers’ pay—through ‘downbanding’—and cutting jobs across the hospitals.”

Bosses have shut two operating theatres, two catheter labs and 15 percent of beds in the St Bartholomew Hospital’s new Barts Health Centre.

In Whipps Cross Hospital, run by Barts, beds on the trauma and orthopaedic wards were closed. The midwife unit has also been closed for 15 days since January. 

The NHS is short of “several thousand” nurses across London alone. 

This is forcing hospitals to spend millions on nursing agencies, which can’t guarantee continuity with patient care. Yet Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt has ordered health bosses to cut their agency bill.

And the Tories have slashed training places, meaning that last year 57,000 people in Britain were chasing just 20,000 places. 

So hospitals are now actively recruiting health workers from other European countries. Hospital boss Keith McNeil attacked hiring migrant nurses as “distracting, frustrating and expensive”.

He sees migrant workers as just another cost. But migrant workers built the NHS.

It is PFI debt—along with ongoing cuts and privatisation—that is driving it into crisis.

Jim argued, “The crisis in places like Barts Health will not be solved until the PFI debt is dropped.” 


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