Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/384/4827
NHS: 'Over performing' but under-funded
THE NATIONAL Health Service will be one of the big issues in this year's general election. New Labour have increased by 50% the money they have put into the service since they took over from the Tories. But the NHS is still under-funded.
A recent survey by the Health Service Journal forecast that the service could have a £340 million deficit at the end of this financial year. North West London Strategic Health Authority has a £49.5 million shortfall, while huge deficits are predicted for hospitals in areas such as Leeds, Manchester and Plymouth.
This problem even affects one of the richest and best-known of London hospitals - Great Ormond Street children's hospital. The trust that runs the hospital faces a £1.7 million deficit. Their problem? They 'over-performed', treating hundreds more children than they got funding for.
The Trust had to pay bigger staff bills than they expected, mainly for consultants but also for agency staff. Now this pioneering hospital doesn't have enough money to keep its beds open. Operations are being cancelled, beds are closed and nursing staff, who have worked hard all year, are told to take a £5 an hour pay cut for all extra work they do.
Where does the cash go?
THE COST of operations and treatment in the NHS rose by 28% between 1995 and 2003 but spending went up by 39%. Where has all the money gone?
Most of New Labour's NHS spending is geared towards implementing its pro-market agenda. Much has gone on schemes that guarantee profits to 'private healthcare providers'. The biggest of these private providers is the drugs industry.
According to The Observer, the price of drugs is a huge cost pressure on the NHS, rising by about 13% every year and showing no sign of diminishing.
In 2002, a report on drugs and the NHS said that the pharmaceutical bosses' average 18.9% profit-to-revenue ratio was, by far, the highest margin of any industry in Britain. Three years later the pharmaceutical companies are still making huge profits.
If the drug companies were nationalised under the democratic control of health staff and other workers, we could end the profiteering, save money and more importantly direct research into medically vital areas and not just in the most profitable spheres.
Huge amounts are wasted on the private finance initiative (PFI) for building hospitals and other NHS buildings. The example of Darent Valley hospital in Kent, where Carillion shareholders invested £13 million and took out £37 million profits within three years, shows how lucrative these deals are.
These companies - glorified suction pumps extracting our cash from our health service - will still be raking in money from the NHS in 30 years time unless a mass campaign stops them.
Staff shortages are increasing the NHS's reliance on agency and bank nurses - Cardiff Royal Infirmary had spent £18.6 million this year on this by January, causing immense problems. Wouldn't it be cheaper to recruit new staff and pay enough to retain them than this over-reliance on agency staff?
If the government concentrated on providing (and fully funding) the resources for the NHS, and paying good wages for staff, the service would be in a far healthier state! But New Labour won't do that - it's time for a new workers' party.
In The Socialist 12 March 2005: