Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 47 Number 1, January 21, 2017 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

The Battle for the Future Direction of the NHS

Government Plans to Wreck the NHS are
Behind the Crisis in Acute and Social Care

Over recent months, the crisis in the NHS in England caused by the ongoing closure of Accident an Emergency provision - the shortage of acute hospital beds and the availability of nursing and social care accommodation for elderly patients - has been so severe that the Red Cross has been brought in at some hospitals to support hard-pressed NHS workers whose departments were at breaking point. On January 6, Mike Adamson, Red Cross chief executive, said he could only describe it as a "humanitarian crisis" due to "the scale of the threat posed to the nation's health and well-being by pressures on the system". There has been a significant change in demand for Red Cross help in recent months, with the charity now working in 20 A&Es according to their website.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn responded that it is the government that is behind the crisis: "The crisis in our NHS is unprecedented. People are lying on trolleys in corridors waiting to be seen. Hospitals have had to close their doors, unable to admit patients. The health service is at breaking point. But this crisis is not due to an outbreak of disease. It is a crisis made in Downing Street by this government - a crisis we warned them about."

Figures released to the BBCi on January 8 show that more than one in ten patients in England face long delays for a hospital bed after emergency admission and that "nearly 475,000 patients waited for more than four hours for a bed on a ward in 2015-16 - almost a five-fold increase since 2010-11. Hospitals reported using side rooms and corridors to cope with the growing number of 'trolley waits'."

According to the article, bed occupancy is not meant to exceed 85%, to give staff time to clean beds, keep infections low and ensure availability for patients who need them; 130 out of 179 hospital trusts report rates exceeding this for general hospital beds.

"Hospital managers said the problem was causing 'deeply worrying' delays for these patients," reports the article. "They are people who have already faced a wait to be seen in A&E but whose condition is deemed to be so serious they need to be admitted on to a ward. About one in five people who come to A&E fall into this category and it includes the frail elderly and patients with chest pains, breathing problems and fractures."

What was so noticeable was the delayed and then hostile response of the government. Both Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Prime Minister Theresa May were either unavailable or delayed their comments for several days, before branding Mike Adamson as "irresponsible" for calling the situation a humanitarian crisis. The government's reply is to justify its opposition to the interests of the people by blaming the victims and those who are trying to deal with the crisis. They use the crisis itself to push further the same anti-social measures that lie at the heart of the crisis they have created.

This is the callous, calculated response to a crisis that has indeed been created in Downing Street and is consistent with the direction of wrecking the NHS as a public service and privatising it through the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs). Rather than the government taking up its responsibility to deal with the crisis in the NHS, it is hoping to manipulate the crisis, claiming that the issue is one of "unprecedented demand", an "increasingly elderly population" and so on. Further, the government claims to be investing "billions of pounds" already in the NHS. This is all done to try to influence public opinion that NHS is "no longer affordable" for government so that people must increasingly take out private health insurance as the service deteriorates, as well as introducing more charging for patients. Theresa May also criticised local councils for not funding social care by raising council taxes sufficiently, something which the government is currently trying to force councils to do, while the government simultaneously continues to slash council social care budgets.

Increasing pressure is also being put on A&Es with the closure or threatened closure of Walk-In Centres. The resulting lengthened journey times to the nearest A&E is an additional life-threatening factor affecting many people.

The people must continue to build their campaigns to safeguard the future of the NHS, uniting the people in every area of the country, regardless of the political views of those involved, building the movement locally as well as nationally. Such a movement must continue to aim at keeping the initiative in the people's own hands and charting a new path against this direction that is wrecking the NHS.

The issue facing this growing movement is to deprive the government of the power to implement its wrecking plans for the NHS. Access to health care is a right of everyone in a modern society, and this right must be guaranteed for all. Public right should be defended and asserted over the rights assumed by the monopolies: the claims of the people on the economy to provide their health care system and other vital public services are paramount and must take precedence over those of the monopolies and finance capitalists.

This means that resources must, as a matter of necessity, be ensured for the training of doctors and consultants required for all acute and community services. Locally accessible district hospitals with a wide range of properly-funded acute and emergency services must be retained. It is the duty of government to make the claims necessary to fully fund and provide a comprehensive health service across the country to all communities. A modern society must provide a modern health service for all as of right!



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