Under plans marked “strictly confidential—not for wider circulation” health bosses in west and north west London are plotting to decimate local services.
Their North West London Delivery Plan is part of the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs).
These carve England into 44 “footprints” to help the Tories slash £22 billion from the NHS by 2020-21 under the guise of improving patient care.
If the local plan is pushed through, patients and workers will be hit hard.
With Charing Cross and Ealing hospitals downgraded, there will be up to 600 fewer beds. Health workers are already overstretched, and another 7,753 jobs would be slashed.
Bosses want to cut general admissions by 50,000, outpatient appointments by 222,370 and A&E
attendances by 64,175. Cutting the number of hospitals from nine to five is as the centre of the local STP.
The A&E departments at Central Middlesex and Hammersmith hospitals shut in 2014 under a plan called “Shaping a Healthier Future”.
NHS bosses know it’s toxic, so the document hasn’t even been shown to some leaders of local councils who have to sign up to the STPs.
That’s why Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt and NHS England are relying on bribery and lies to push through their assault.
Stephen Cowan, leader of Labour-run Hammersmith and Fulham council, told Socialist Worker how NHS England tried to force him to sign the STP without seeing it. He said, “We got into the meeting of all the north west London councils to sign on 27 June and I still hadn’t seen it.
“They wanted us to sign that night but there was a two-page document there. It had sentences in it like, ‘We recognise that if we do not sign the STP, we do not get any more money for adult social care’.
“When I asked to see the STP, they said, ‘You don’t need to see that, councillor, there’s nothing in there you need to worry about’.”
When Cowan finally saw the STP later that week, it was a rehash of Shaping a Healthier Future that local people have resisted. Hammersmith and Fulham and Ealing councils refused to sign up and now others have followed suit and refused to sign their STP.
“We’ve been saying to anyone who will listen, signing the STP is a betrayal of the NHS,” said Cowan.
A strong local health campaign has pushed Labour councillors to fight back.
Some 500 people attended a meeting in Ealing Town Hall last Wednesday, one of many in recent years, helping mobilise thousands in the streets too. As Eve Turner from the Ealing Save Our Hospitals campaign told Socialist Worker, “You’re much more likely to get the council not to sign up to them if you’ve got a strong campaign.
“But we also go further than that and are against all cuts and privatisation in the NHS.”
Tories are gutting the service, not improving care
The Tories claim that they’re pushing through the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) for clinical not financial reasons.
They argue that “centralising” services in large clinical hubs will improve patient care.
While it’s true that some procedures, such as heart operations, are better done in large hubs, the Tories’ plan is for wholesale cuts.
It is part of breaking up the NHS and opening it up to privatisation.
Stephen Cowan said, “One idea behind Charing Cross Hospital is that they would sell off all but 13 percent of the site.”
Julian Bell, leader of Ealing council, added, “The STP is very clear about the financial metrics.
“It says Ealing hospital is costing too much and creating a deficit therefore it has to close.”
Bosses argue that these hospitals won’t really be closing. But once the A&E goes, so does the consultant-led care, the beds, and other services.
It means gutting the service and is a stepping stone to full closure.
This will force people to travel longer distances for care.
Cowan said, “I was talking to one patient who’s pregnant. With the services closed at Charing Cross, she has to travel on three buses to get to Northwick Park Hospital for prenatal care.”
STPs also shift the burden from hospitals onto “primary care”—care that’s provided within the community.
There is nothing wrong with providing people with care at home. But local authorities’ social care budgets have already been slashed.
The reported problems of delayed discharges from hospitals are often because there isn’t the required social care available.
The STPs will only make this worse.
NHS pushed to the edge by crisis
Health bosses spent over a billion pounds plugging NHS deficits in 2015-16 with money allocated for long-term plans.
A £2.1 billion fund was set up for the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) process. But £1.8 billion was spent plugging NHS deficits.
The Tories’ latest assault comes on top of the deep crisis in health and social care services.
Social care for elderly people in England is facing “complete collapse” according to Age UK. Budget cuts and privatisation mean that over one million people can’t get the care they need.
But local campaigns in opposition to the STPs are helping people feel more confident to resist the attacks.
Health campaigns Together are now building for the national demonstration in defence of the NHS on 4 March.
It is an opportunity to unite the local fights defending the NHS.