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From The Socialist newspaper, 14 August 2013

Save our NHS:

Hunt attacks NHS staff and patients...

Jackie Grunsell
Unison staff at Pinderfields hospital strike, photo Iain Dalton

Unison staff at Pinderfields hospital strike, photo Iain Dalton   (Click to enlarge)

Patient groups and health workers' organisations are shocked by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's recent statement that to set minimum staffing levels for hospitals would be 'artificial' and may jeopardise the need to 'protect NHS budgets'.

We are now seven months on from the Francis report, the independent review into high death rates at the Mid Staffordshire Foundation NHS trust. In it QC Robert Francis drew the conclusion that chronic staffing shortages had contributed to problems at the trust. So he called for the setting of minimum legal staffing levels, among other recommendations.

Increase staffing levels

Since then we've had two more reports on quality and safety in the NHS. Firstly the review by Bruce Keogh into practices at 14 more trusts where there were concerns. This review's findings showed that insufficient nursing staff levels or an inadequate 'skill mix' was a factor in causing poor quality of care in some of the trusts.

Now the Berwick report backs recommendations to improve staff numbers. Berwick suggests that NICE (the National Institute for Clinical Excellence) develops a formula to calculate safe staff-to-patient ratios on a ward by ward basis.

Increases to staffing levels are supported by health workers. As the British Medical Journal reported, nurses say they feel forced to 'ration' care due to overwhelming pressures on their time. The Royal College of Nursing says: "Poor care needs to be prevented by making sure wards are well staffed. It must not be used as an early warning sign".

Bureaucracy?

It seems even the 'late warning signs' of high death rates, malnourished patients left in soiled beds and worsening pressures sores aren't enough for Jeremy Hunt. Of course to admit that staffing levels urgently need increasing would be to admit the Coalition government's attacks on the health service have been and still are wrong.

Since the Con-Dems came to power almost 5,000 nursing jobs have been lost in the NHS. There are plans for a further 4% cut between 2014 and 2016. Hunt would have to admit that his government's underfunding of the NHS means hospitals use lower paid and less well or untrained health care assistants to do the jobs of nurses or even doctors in some cases.

Yet Hunt dismisses calls for registration of HCAs as 'bureaucratic'. If anything the ongoing privatisation of health services that this government heralds as the solution, diverts money away from front line care into the pockets of big health corporations.

To a dehydrated patient needing a drip there's nothing 'artificial' about having a nurse available to do it now rather than in four hours. There's nothing 'bureaucratic' about a staff member with the time to talk to you after being told you've got cancer rather than having to rush off to the next job.

Hunt should try living in the real world where the majority agree patient care should come before profits. The NHS needs investment urgently now, to recruit more well trained staff and stop any more Mid Staffordshire like tragedies in the future.

The Socialist Party calls for a democratically run NHS where patients and staff could come together to decide what level of staffing is needed not just as a minimum but to enable the dignity and quality of care we deserve.


...but mass action beats him

Roger Shrives

In Lewisham in south London, triumphant health campaigners' posters announce: "We've won! Justice for Lewisham Hospital." Local people are celebrating a famous victory.

This January health secretary Hunt tried to downgrade Lewisham hospital's accident and emergency departments and its high risk obstetric department. On 31 July a high court judge ruled that Hunt did not have such legal powers.

This was a victory for organised opposition to NHS cutbacks. Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign organised huge marches of 10,000+ last November and of 25,000 in January against this attack on a successful and popular hospital.

NHS campaigners know that this isn't the end of the fight. The government attacked Lewisham as part of a plan to savage spending at the South London Healthcare Trust (SLHT) even though Lewisham is not part of SLHT.

That's one reason why the judge ruled Hunt had acted illegally.

But hospitals within SLHT are still in danger from massive cuts. And as around Britain, the main culprits are government-imposed 'reforms'. SLHT is awash with Private Finance Initiative (PFI) debts. In 2011/2012 interest payments on the 65 million deficit amounted to 6.5% of total spending. PFI spending is growing - predicted to be up to 356 million in SLHT by the end of the year.

Who will pay for this? Vital services and workers' wages, if the government and top management have their way. We will need to build a community and trade union led campaign to stop their planned carnage.

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In The Socialist 14 August 2013:


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