Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 46 Number 5, March 8, 2016 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

The Battle for the Future Direction of the NHS

What Does this "Alliance" of South of Tyne Health Services Really Mean?

North East Workers & Politics, March 7, 2016

On February 29, the South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust (STFT) announced to its staff that it was developing its partnership with City Hospitals Sunderland (CHS) into an "Alliance". The statements issued were that there was urgent need to "rebalance" the services with South Tyneside "moving away" from providing complex acute services and in future "leading on" out of hospital rehabilitation and diagnostic and screening services. The claim is this will lead to "high quality and sustainable hospital and community services".

The claim is also that this is not a merger, or takeover by one Trust of another, although a new Board South of Tyne Healthcare Group has been set up with a Chief Executive from CHS and Chair from STFT. It is also clearly indicated that this will lead to and "alignment towards one Group Executive Team over time". Already, prior to the announcement staff have been informed that the award winning acute stroke services at STFT will move to CHS and under review are most of the acute services at STFT, if not all, for transfer to CHS, whilst out-of-hospital rehabilitation and diagnostic and screening services are transferred from CHS to STFT. The Trusts have also refused to invoke a consultation process claiming that this was a "management re-organisation" and therefore there was no need for public consultation.

In the letter to staff, the Chief Executive admitted that many Trusts were being encouraged by the Department of Health to create "planning footprints for Trusts to work together". However, although the Trusts mention the "financial climate" in their statements, what they don't acknowledge is the deliberate government underfunding of NHS acute and community services which is the real reason behind the moves of STFT and CHS. The government's refusal to properly resource our health service has led to the scandalous situation where CHS and STFT are £50 million + short in their budget for 2016/2017. This is what is driving the closure of acute services for patients at STFT which they hope will safeguard acute services at CHS. However, both the acute services at STFT and CHS are overstretched now, so how will drastic reduction in these services for patients help? The increasing pressure and crisis in Urgent Care Centres (A&Es) is now the increasing lack of acute beds and services at our District Hospitals added to which is the government's deliberate underfunding for training, over decades, of the doctors and nurses required by the NHS.

The government's call for Trusts to "work together" is not to develop "high quality and sustainable hospital and community services" but to desperately try and paper over this chronic underfunding and fragmentation they have caused by their purchaser/provider split. They want all these Trusts that have been competing with each other to now engage in takeovers and mergers. Cynically, the government is using this underfunding and competition to provide services to speed up the process of privatising health and support services and attacking the pay and conditions of health workers to wreck the universal health care system built up over generations. For this purpose and for decades governments have continued to make cuts to the budgets of Trusts and other providers each year under so-called "efficiency savings". They then use the threat of "unsustainable provider" if health services and hospitals are unable "live within their means".

It is this whole direction that the NHS is being driven that is at fault. The people of South Tyne and Wear should not accept that their hospitals and health services be subjected to this financial dictate and serious irrational consequences for their health service. The people should demand that they should decide the future of their health care system based on the needs of the population in each district, region and nationally. These are not decisions that can be left to the accountants of a so-called market in health, or to the dictate of the neo-liberal anti-social agenda of governments. In the modern world health care is a human right. No community should be subject to the arbitrary closure of their acute, community or rehabilitation health services. It is our NHS - We decide!


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