Health: Situation is critical for NHS as 69th anniversary of creation passes by

Date: 23rd September 2015. Picture James Hardisty, Ambulance's parked outside A&E Jubilee Wing, Leeds General Infirmary.
Date: 23rd September 2015. Picture James Hardisty, Ambulance's parked outside A&E Jubilee Wing, Leeds General Infirmary.

The National Health Service was founded 69 years ago, on July 5, 1948, a key part of the post war welfare state.

Today, the outlook for the NHS is uncertain, given funding and staffing shortages, closures and down-grading of facilities and continued privatisation.

In 1948, with the foundation of our NHS, health care became free, universal and comprehensive.

People who had gone without care because they could not afford to pay for it could now get the expert advice and attention they needed.

A leaflet was sent to all households to explain the New National Health Service. It stated: ‘it is not a “charity”.

You are all paying for it, mainly as taxpayers, and it will relieve your money worries in time of illness.’

This was a massive achievement, removing most health care from the private sector, so that it was no longer a product to be bought and sold on the market.

Instead, it became a duty of the state to provide care according to patients’ need, not their ability to pay.

Staff enjoyed national pay and conditions and there were nationally defined quality standards.

For decades our NHS remained a shining example of quality and equality, health regardless of wealth, paid for by pooling risks rather than individual insurance.

However, today’s NHS is very different, with frequent reports of crisis, underfunding and shortages of staff.

These have come from the Red Cross, the BMA, the Nuffield Trust and others.

On Monday, we heard that 3,264 nurses and midwives left the NHS during April and May, double the number for the whole of the previous year.

Although the government dismisses these reports, the recent election campaign showed that public opinion has turned against austerity policies, as most people understand the damage they are doing to health, well-being and safety.

On our street stalls and through our networks, we hear warm praise for NHS care: patients realise that staff are overstretched, often working unpaid overtime to look after us.

Staff report that the pressures of their workloads that are putting patient safety at risk.

Some tell us that they have decided to leave, as they can’t take any more.

Sheffield Save Our NHS will continue to support NHS staff, who should be properly paid and fully involved in proposals for change.

Our NHS has suffered from repeated reorganisations, culminating last year in the division of NHS England into 44 new areas called ‘footprints’.

In each of these areas commissioners and providers of health services were to produce a Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP).

South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw are now to be a ‘vanguard’ for the new Accountable Care Systems, to be followed by Accountable Care Organisations.

Despite positive spin about improving care and reducing health inequalities, these changes are neither sustainable nor accountable.

Financially, the sums do not add up, so the great expectations of improvements to care will be disappointed.

As for accountability, the public accountability of the Secretary of State for Health was abolished by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, and the elaboration of STPs has been anything but accountable or transparent.

The BMA published its own report on STPs last week, and anybody who cares about our NHS needs to find it and read it – and ask the questions they suggest.

We are doing what we can to question local changes and bring them into public view. At NHS meetings, open to the public, we put questions to Clinical Commissioners.

Recently we attended the Joint CCG for South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw, together with campaigners from across South Yorkshire.

We called for genuine public involvement and challenged the assertion that people do not care who provides services.

We expressed our concerns about reorganisation of hyper-acute stroke services, whose future remains undecided, and about changes to children’s surgery and anaesthesia out of hours, no longer to be available at Chesterfield.

Underlying all the changes is another agenda: privatisation.

Too big to privatise in one go, our NHS can, however, be sold off in pieces, through outsourcing, PFIs, and so on – the private sector is cultivating its own magic money trees in many areas of the NHS.

For example, Sheffield CCG told us that last year, over £1million went to private consultants involved in ‘strategic development work’.

A further £83,000 was spent on processing competitive procurements, though this does not include staff time spent on such work.

Of course, this is peanuts compared with the huge contracts around the country going to private health care firms, set to increase under Accountable Care Systems, which deserve an article to themselves.

Meanwhile, we will continue to fight for our NHS – will you join us?

For more information on Sheffield Save Our NHS visit http://www.sheffieldsaveournhs.co.uk/

The team can also be contacted by email at teamssohns@gmail.com