WEALTHY PATIENTS are jumping the NHS waiting list because they can afford to pay. That is the reality of New Labour's market forces in the NHS, revealed in the Observer last Sunday. The rich were treated by NHS doctors, in the same wards and with the same equipment as NHS patients.
Some 10,000 private patients were treated in NHS specialist hospitals last year. Fee-paying patients are less likely to have an operation cancelled and are more likely to see a top consultant. They are routinely operated on at times of the day reserved for NHS patients. New Labour's worship of the free market has opened the door for two-tier healthcare.
More than 2,277 private patients were treated at the Royal Marsden top cancer hospital last year. It gets almost a quarter of its income from private patients. One in five of the operations at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in Oxford are done on fee-paying patients. Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospital, specialising in heart and lung treatment, had 2,800 private patients last year.
If you have £15,000 you can choose the surgeon and the time of your operation. NHS patients wait six months to a year for a heart operation. A source at the Brompton told the Observer: 'Private patients are booked in first, so if the operation overruns NHS patients rather than private patients are cancelled.' Consultants and surgeons can more than double their incomes by treating private patients in NHS hospitals.
NEW LABOUR'S boast that the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) would mean hospitals built more quickly was exposed last week. The government announced in 1998 that a new hospital, the Bart's and London Trust, would be built under PFI.
It will now not be built until 2007 at the earliest. A new hospital in Swindon has also been delayed by four years. The GMB union, which has published a report of delays due to PFI, says it is a catalogue 'of broken promises, postponements and contractual wrangling'. The construction or expansion of ten hospitals announced in 1998 have all experienced long delays.
Hospitals like the Ritz for the few?
HEALTH secretary Alan Milburn wants NHS patients to pay for services in hospital as if it were a hotel. He wants patients to pay for using televisions and laptop computers, and even admitted the NHS could charge for hospital food. Widespread charging could mean poorer patients being priced out of a meal.
Staff shortages spell danger for patients
TREATING patients safely is becoming increasingly difficult because of the rising number of agency workers. That was the warning from a spokesperson for the North Bristol NHS Trust last week.
North Bristol is one of the hospital trusts suffering from chronic staff shortages revealed in a recent survey by Nursing Times magazine. It has a rate of 16 percent job vacancies in its accident and emergency department, with 40 percent agency workers on some shifts. Nursing Times reveals that around one in five nursing posts are vacant in frontline casualty departments in 20 hospital trusts.
Low pay and long hours are driving full time workers out of the NHS. The problem is particularly serious in London and the south east, where the cost of living is higher. Trusts are using more and more agency workers to alleviate the staff shortages.
This means an increased burden on temporary workers working in unfamiliar surroundings to provide vital services. There are as many as 40 percent agency workers on some shifts in hospitals in London and the south east.
THE TERRIBLE cost of the NHS crisis was shown this week when 130 breast cancer patients at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth were found to be given the wrong doses of radiotherapy.
Derriford Hospital has been criticised for long waiting lists, cancelled operations and its lack of communication with patients. Yet management at Derriford Hospital was praised by the government's health quango, the Commission for Health Improvement, just last summer.
Medicine denied for profit
GIANT DRUGS firms are holding new lifesaving medicines to ransom in a bid to get more money out of governments. AstraZeneca made profits of £11 billion last year. Pfizer made profits of £2.6 billion.
Yet Pfizer bosses warned that countries unwilling to pay the full cost of drugs may not get the latest treatments. This was revealed in the magazine Chemistry and Industry. An industry insider explained, 'This row is as much about selling products for a profit as curing the sick. The big companies talk about wanting to save lives, but they only want to make drugs for rich people. They spend far less on research into malaria - mainly a Third World illness - than they do on 'lifestyle' drugs.'
Education secretary Estelle Morris wants to introduce 'super-heads', commanding six-figure salaries of around £150,000 a year. They would play a 'chief executive' type role.
Alongside this, 'launchpad' schools will be introduced. Yet only £4 million has been set aside for the scheme. These measures do nothing to deal with the teacher shortages which are at record levels. In the hardest hit areas one in five lessons are being taken by supply teachers.
MILLIONS OF pounds are spent every year on investigating corrupt coppers. Over 130 Metropolitan Police officers have been arrested on corruption charges in the last two years alone. Some 506 officers are investigating one Met police officer, at a cost of £12 million a year.
HOME secretary David Blunkett has been accused of using taxpayers' money to boost his own image. His department has spent £27.3 million on adverting and publicity in just one year. That is an increase of £16 million on the previous year.