Did you see the special PR launch staged by Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Lansley? It was a clear sign that the massive reaction against their plans to emasculate the NHS are beginning to register. Lnasley says that there have to be some tweaks to his plans, Clegg says there have to be huge changes, Cameron just goes on and on about how he had to rely on the excellent NHS when he most needed it. As we were seeing to the hens this morning, Albert commented that the prime minister (or PR minister as he insists on calling him) could sell snow to the Eskimos. I have to confess to being bewitched by the similarity to Tony Blair, they both tell a good tale.
But no sooner had we listened to the blather about it being wrong to “charge ahead” in response to yet more hostile reactions from the medical fraternity, than a leaked copy of a memo issued by the chief executive of the NHS, David Nicolson, blew the talk of consultation to kingdom- come. In it Mr Nicolson makes clear that there is little room for manoeuvre. It records that a “red line” exists beneath the fundamental planks of the Lansley plan and they “are not for changing”.
I imagine few are surprised to learn that the high-profile visit to Frimley Park hospital was little more than an exercise in spin, but most of us are surprised to learn that the intention is to change virtually nothing. There will be some ‘concessions’ with local Councillors given a place on the GP commissioning bodies, although how this will improve things is open to considerable debate. There is also mention of hospital doctors being included, and this makes sense for surgeons and consultants have a far more comprehensive insight into critical care than GPs.
But the central plank of the plan will survive. Lansley is hell-bent on introducing the private sector by allowing it to take over the simpler treatments. The result will be that NHS hospitals will be undermined and obliged to merge. The result of that will be fewer hospitals and greater travel distances for ambulances, patients and relatives alike.
The aspect that worries me above all others is the inevitable destruction of the cancer networks. I spend a lot of time helping the multi-discipline teams that have, in recent times, done so much to improve the quality of cancer care. Once GP consortiums (or the private companies to whom the task will be sub-contracted) take over, the service will be broken up and we will step back ten years in our levels of care. People will die and I for one will fight this to my last breath.
But all this hoo-hah is about something that the Conservatives wish to do and, to be fair, it does reflect their belief in privatisation. The likelihood is that chaos will develop for already many Primary Care Trusts have been wound up as the exodus of skilled staff accelerates. But before considering that as the protests gather momentum, we should be aware of what is happening right now.
Government claims to have maintained funding are nonsense. Efficiency-saving targets totalling £20 billion have been set. Since most large hospitals have already cut their administration to the core, that means reductions in medical staff and procedures. Many hospitals across the country have slashed the number of hip and knee operations and the waiting time has trebled. Suddenly a lot of the better-off patients are electing to ‘go private’ which, since the surgeons are the same ones, will lead to even longer NHS waits.
And other operations are no longer guaranteed. Surgeons have today published a letter warning that they are no longer able to guarantee emergency operations. The letter is signed by, amongst others, John Black, the president of the Royal College, and makes clear that emergencies are now “squeezed in at the end of the day”. There is now “relative neglect of the needs of those admitted as emergencies”.
I am not opposed to the concept of competition in many things. But what Lansley is trying to do in the health service will create a two-level service. We are told that it works well in America. It does for some, but in trying to change it Barack Obama was attempting to help those who cannot afford to pay.
I even wonder if Cameron really understands the implications. In fairness I suspect that he does not and sees his role as merely rescuing Lansley from total humiliation. But if he is able to smooth-talk the opposition away, millions will one day rue the destruction of what had become a good and comprehensive service. And it is of no use waiting for Miliband to save the NHS, by the time he is is any position to do anything it will be too late.
Next time you pass your local hospital look carefully at those open gates. Politicians on the make are already ordering the padlocks!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; MONEY : “I once gave a waiter a tip. I told him never to step off a moving bus”….Groucho Marx “Money makes money and the money money makes makes money”…..Benjamin Franklin “My problem is how to reconcile my net income with my gross habits”….Errol Flynn “Today you can go to a petrol station and find the cash register open and the toilets locked. They must think toilet paper is worth more than money”……Joey Bishop……..” Nothing dispels enthusiasm like a small admission charge”…..Kin Hubbard “Why is there so much month left at the end of the money?”…..John Barrymore “The difference between outlaws and in-laws is taht the outlaws never promise to pay it back”…..Kin Huddard “It doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor so long as you have money”…….Max Miller
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Liverpool 2. Madame Tussauds
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which major engineering project was completed by Egypt in 1970? 2. Which ancient disease was worldwide in the early 70s, especially in Africa and India?