Tory health minister Philip Dunne waded in behind a dangerous plan to deal with the shortage of hospital beds on Monday.
A backlash had forced Southend Hospital in Essex and new start-up company CareRooms to back off from a social care pilot scheme.
The “AirBnB-style” scheme would have seen patients recovering from surgery put up in people’s spare bedrooms.
Just two days after the news broke, bosses at Southend Hospital said they had “no intention to support the pilot at this time”. But Dunne said he “wouldn’t immediately reject it”.
“We can’t close our minds to looking at new ways of doing things,” he said in a radio interview.
The episode exposes the Tories’ assault on health and social care budgets.
After an operation or treatment in hospital, patients are meant to be discharged onto a social care package.
But budget cuts mean there aren’t the social care packages available.
On some days up to 6,000 patients are in beds when they don’t need to be in hospital. This is labelled as “bed blocking”. The number of beds has fallen by 157,000 since 1987, including a 10 percent reduction since 2010.
But there is also a fightback against Tory budget cuts and privatisation.
Around 200 people marched in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, last Saturday against plans that could see maternity services axed at their local hospital.
The plans are an early sign of the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) that aim to slash £22 billion from the NHS by 2020.
Opposition from health campaigners forced some local, mainly Labour-run, authorities to refuse to sign off on the STPs. To get around this the Tories are now trying to trial Accountable Care Systems (ACS) in eight areas as part of the plans.
Both STPs and ACSs are shams that talk of “integrating” health and social care without tackling the problem of underfunding.
Labour has promised to halt the STPs and “renationalise” the NHS. But fighting to save the health service cannot wait for another general election.
A key opportunity to build a fight will be the Health Campaigns Together (HCT) national conference in west London this Saturday.
It will bring together campaigners and trade unionists from across England. HCT organised the 200,000-strong demonstration in March.
There was also an important shift in the Unison union, as members defeated the leadership’s position of not opposing the STPs at its annual conference in April.
Unison could also still organise a strike ballot to demand above inflation pay deals for NHS workers.
Now union leaders will have to be pushed to call the sort of action—particularly strikes—that can repel the Tories’ attacks on the NHS.
Hospital’s Grenfell link
Health campaigners were set to protest this Wednesday against north London hospital bosses’ plans to work with a firm linked to the Grenfell Tower fire.
Whittington Hospital bosses are looking to revamp the site through a Strategic Estates Partnership with Ryhurst.
Ryhurst is a subsidiary of Rydon, the main contractor that carried out refurbishment work on the Grenfell Tower block in west London before the blaze that killed over 80 people in June.
The deal between hospital bosses and Ryhurst was agreed three days before the fire. It was agreed in a private part of a public board meeting.
Shirley Franklin, Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition chair, said, “Do you really think that the decision to use a Rydon subsidiary to manage and profit from the estates strategy is a morally acceptable plan?”