Socialist Worker

There are cuts but no incisions as NHS surgery waiting times soar

Routine operations face chronic delays in a crisis that Tory plans will only make worse, warns Tomáš Tengely-Evans

Issue No. 2518

Trouble in the operating theatre

Trouble in the operating theatre (Pic: Flickr/Dominique Cappronnier)


Tens of thousands of NHS patients in England are being made to wait longer than 18 weeks for routine operations, a new report by Patients’ Association found last week.

The Feeling the Wait report found that some 92,739 patients were waiting longer than the NHS target of 18 weeks in 2015.

That’s an increase of 80 percent from 51,388 the previous year.

The worst average waiting times were for operations mainly for older patients, such as hip replacement and hernia operations.

Hospital bosses cancelled 753 operations “on the day”. The report made clear that “equipment shortages and a lack of beds were the most common reasons” for this.

Some 8,000 beds have been cut in England’s NHS under the Tories.

The waiting times add to a growing crisis in the NHS. The Tories will try to seize on this report to bolster their case for “seven day working” for health workers.

But their plan would be “cost neutral”. This means it comes with no extra funding—and would stretch resources that are already inadequate for five days over seven.

The Tories also demand that the NHS makes £22 billion in “efficiency savings”.

Sam, an occupational therapist in east London, told Socialist Worker, “The NHS already provides emergency care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s not a bad idea to provide elective surgery during the weekend, but that needs funding.”

Overstretched

She added, “We’re already overstretched. The plan will make staff more overworked—and that’s bad for patients.”

Poverty pay, mounting workloads and management bullying are driving an acute NHS staffing crisis.

“Many long-time staff have been pushed out and it’s really hard to hire people to work in the NHS,” Sam explained.

In London alone 10,000 nursing places remain unfilled.

The seven day working plan is the justification for the new contract health secretary Jeremy Hunt is imposing to make junior doctors work longer.

But Sam said, “It’s not just about having more junior doctors or nurses if you want to run seven day surgery.

“You need more porters and cleaners to make sure the hospital is kept clean and you need more therapists to care for patients afterwards. Then you need to keep the pharmacy running.”

Hunt’s real plan is to drive down health workers’ pay to soften the NHS up for privatisation. This will only make waiting times and cancellations worse.

The Feeling the Wait report underlines that the NHS needs more funding. That can only come from getting behind health workers’ fight against Hunt.


Protests against ISS outsourcers are good, but strikes would be even better

Health workers fighting attacks on their hours and jobs were set to protest outside Homerton University Hospital in Hackney, east London, on Thursday.

The Unison union members work for outsourcing giant ISS mainly as cleaners, domestics and security staff.

A Unison member told Socialist Worker, “It’s not just workers who will be affected. Patients could be at risk.

“I question whether we have the equipment we need, such as the right sort of mops and detergents.”

He added, “We don’t have enough training either, they give cleaners a book to read and say they’re trained.”

ISS won the hospital’s new “facility management” contract, which is worth more than £45 million over five years, last October.

Since then it has threatened workers with jobs cuts or “redeployment” if they don’t accept fewer hours.

This would see some lose up to a quarter of their pay.

Unison should immediately ballot its members for strikes.

Protest, Thursday 25 August, 12.30pm, Homerton Hospital

Outsourced health workers in Cardiff have beaten back bosses’ attacks after balloting for strikes.

The Unison members work for outsourcer Engie as cleaners, porters, caterers and reception and housekeeping staff. Engie had threatened to slash hours, merge jobs and make some workers redundant.

But a 100 percent vote for strikes forced bosses to back down and recognise the union.


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