A couple of members of our group attended the National Keep Our NHS Public AGM that was held in London on 13th July, 2013. This is their report from the meeting:
Review of the year
It has been a tough year with the fight to keep Lewisham A&E department open, and the Gloucester issue which was finally won in October. Despite writing to peers and working with the medical Royal Colleges and the BMA, the April session of the House of Lords failed to stop the inclusion of section 75 in the Health and Social Care Act. Section 75 requires Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to offer competitive tendering for health contracts. This process takes time and is costly with the risk that if the NHS wins a contract the competitors could raise a legal challenge wasting even more time and money. £1.67 million has already been spent on ’competition’ lawyers on the legal aspects of commissioning and one NHS hospital was accused of ‘predatory’ behaviour in a tendering process!
Threats to the NHS
Polly Toynbee from the Guardian newspaper was invited to give her view of the threats to the NHS.
Following the NHS 65th Birthday celebrations there is still much to celebrate, despite the horror stories in the right wing press reporting the NHS as ‘not fit for service’ many patients surveys describe patient satisfaction from the NHS remains constant. The recession is often cited by the Government as the reason that a National Health Service is unaffordable but it is worth remembering that the NHS was started in July 1948 when the national debt at its highest level after the 2nd World War!
The Tory party never wanted the introduction of the NHS and the present government is proving more radical than Mrs Thatcher ever was with the constant undermining of the current NHS. Fragmentation of the service through competitive tendering and awards to private companies is increasing waiting lists, cuts and reduced staffing has inevitably affected standards of care. The government is blaming GPs work schedules (despite no evidence for this), CCGs, health tourism, nurses working for the scandal hit North Staffordshire hospital, and latterly the Quality Care Standards agency.
Nurses at RCN Direct offering health advice have been made redundant with tenders from ‘Any Qualified Providers’ undermining the funding costs of the new 111 service by 30% which is proving unsustainable with two providers reporting bankruptcy. 111 service staff have only hours of training resulting in misdiagnoses and extra strain on A&E services. There have been reports of £4 million pounds wasted on replacing ambulances staffed by paramedics with private ambulances often with staff trained as first aider if at all.
Half of community services in the south have been awarded to Virgin and it has been suggested that 5% has been skimmed of the budget though commercial confidentially prevents this figure been proved or disproved. Many private providers are using the NHS logo as their brand and the general public subsequently believe that such services are still being provided by the NHS.
NHS hospitals can now offer 49% private patient care increased from previous figure of 5% very
tempting when hospitals are reeling from cuts and the NHS has to make savings of £20 billion by
2015 rising to £50 billion by 2030.
Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) remains the most effective pressure group defending the NHS but they will have to up their game by involving all trade unions and the general public. The press is always
keen on NHS stories and the campaigns to save this valued institutions. Let the public know exactly what is happening and the threats to the NHS and court labour even though they were part of the problem especially when they approved PFI building programmes which caused NHS Trust overwhelming debts to repay. Lobby MPs reminding them that they will not get your vote unless they pledge to support the NHS.
The NHS England plan for NHS rationalisation of services is complex and confused with lots of mergers, not all beneficial to patients especially care for children and the frail elderly. Make sure the public realise they can exercise their choice and have the NHS as their only preferred provider not private companies hiding behind the NHS Logo.
Amalgamating Health and Social Care funding and providing a fully integrated system would release money for community services. The demise of the NHS is based on ideological dogma and not firm evidence so question every change with the request for the evidence behind it. Remember Bevan said that a free national health system that includes everyone is the sign of a civilised society.
Jackie Dixon – (Author of NHS SOS) The next two years
Jackie’s presentation mirrored much of Penny’s but she emphasised the confusion of the CCGs and the lack of control over decisions that many were experiencing. CCGs had less budget, more responsibility and more of the blame. Creeping privatisation was in evidence everywhere with companies all eager to exploit the NHS budget which many saw as a cash cow. Lloyds and Boots chemist were enthusiastically offering health and medication reviews and charging the NHS budget £25.00. Under the Health and Social Care Act Jeremy Hunt was not accountable for NHS spending and standard of service delivery, and the 3 original levels of NHS bureaucracy was now replaced by many more levels and organisations including NHS England, MONITOR, NHS Commissioning Board, the Care Quality Commission, CCGs, local Improvement Finance Trusts, Cooperation and competition panels to name a few.
An average of £4 million a year is paid to management consultants which Jackie likened to ‘selling you a watch and telling you the time of day’. Many such companies have vested interests in Health provision and there is some evidence of ‘double counting’ when charging for services to the NHS and a huge potential for fraudulent practices. Money wasted elsewhere by the coalition government includes an estimated £100 billion more to modernise TRIDENT, companies and businesses evading paying taxes by using off shore tax havens, and the spirally cost of repaying the interest on Private Finance Initiative projects.
The public have been deceived into believing that the NHS cannot be sustained and are feeling that they should take out private health insurance only to find that it does not cover the total cost of private care if they need a procedure. Rationing is common with the cessation of procedures such as hip and knee replacements, varicose vein operations and removal of suspicious skin moles in some areas and a return to the ‘post code’ lottery approach.
What to do?
- Join KONP (set up a local group) http://www.keepournhspublic.com
- Attend your local CCG and ask questions
- Attend your Council run Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee and ask question and express concerns
- Join HEALTH WATCH or attend their meetings and express any concerns
- Sign petitions on line through 38degrees on specific health concerns
- Keep the NHS in the press headlines
- Use local media to keep the public informed of concerns
- Join your local NHS Trust Governing Board
- Keep your MP informed, use their surgeries to voice concerns
- Hold a public meeting or demonstration if necessary to prevent privatisation and closures
- Let Private health providers know that you are watching them carefully
- Look for evidence for your campaigns or alert the public to lack of evidence for changes
- Stop scapegoats such as health tourism or immigrants (These are red herrings to distract you from the real issues.
- Distribute information leaflets to inform the public what is happening to the NHS
- Distribute ‘NHS as my preferred provider’ postcards that patients can give to their GPs
- Form alliances with trade unions, health charities, pensioner groups and stop austerity/cuts groups, local Peoples Assembly groups. Anyone in fact that shares your concerns.
- Petition for the NHS to be exempt from the proposed EU/US free trade agreement
- Launch a legal challenge to changes if appropriate ( beware to take advice as can be expensive)
This government wants to hold the NHS under water until the bubbles stop rising, so make sure the bubbles NEVER stop rising. Join us on Sunday 29 September at the national demonstration outside the venue for the Conservative Party Annual conference in Manchester to support the NHS. Watch out for detailed arrangements but find out about transport from your area NOW!