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Health phone line puts lives at risk

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Issue 1709

New Labour’s NHS gimmick

Health phone line puts lives at risk

ADVICE LINE NHS Direct, one the flagship proposals of the government’s health service “modernisation”, is endangering people’s lives. A survey in the Health Which? magazine found that NHS Direct was putting lives at risk by giving wrong advice and not recognising emergencies.

One researcher for the magazine rang the 24-hour telephone service on ten occasions with a potentially life-threatening heart condition. But the researcher was given the correct advice only once.

Six of the calls were dealt with by telephonists with no medical training. Yet the government is set to expand NHS Direct across Britain this October. Its recent “national plan” for the health service said, “A phone call to NHS Direct will provide a one-stop gateway to healthcare.” There is no evidence that NHS Direct has relieved pressure on busy doctors’ surgeries and accident and emergency departments, as the government claims.

Privatisation is no answer

THE GOVERNMENT admitted this week that the number of people in England waiting for more than three months to see a consultant rose by nearly 43,000 in June. But instead of admitting its policies have failed the government blamed seven hospital trusts, which it said were responsible for more than a quarter of the rise.

It has “named and shamed” these hospitals and will send in “hit squads” from its new “Modernisation Agency”. Five of the seven trusts picked on are all taking part in the restructuring of services under the government’s Private Finance Initiative (PFI). PFI involves private firms building and profiting from the NHS.

In Worcester bed numbers are set to fall between 44 and 58 percent over the next two years because of a PFI scheme, leaving the area with the lowest level of hospital provision in the country. Such cuts are why health workers at the “named and shamed” Dudley Group of Hospitals trust are currently taking strike action against privatisation (see page 15).

The government’s whole “modernisation” plan is based around dangerous gimmicks like NHS Direct and handing the NHS over to profit-making firms.

999 emergency

FIVE hundred Londoners a year are dying unnecessarily because of the dire state of the capital’s ambulance service. This shocking figure was revealed in an internal report into London’s ambulances last week. The report also found:

  • Regular periods when no ambulances were available for the most serious emergencies.
  • An inability at times to provide “a clinically safe service”.

But London ambulance bosses are trying to punish staff for the crisis. They have told some workers to cancel their holidays because the service is so understaffed. UNISON health union leaders are now threatening to hold a ballot for industrial action over the issue.

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