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From The Socialist newspaper, 16 March 2006

Save our health service!

Success in Kendal

THE NHS SOS campaign in Kendal, led by local Socialist Party members Andrew Billson-Page and Colin Henderson, has achieved tremendous success in saving some vital local services. Andrew Billson-Page, chair of the NHS-SOS campaign, reports.

IN RECENT months, various services have come under threat including Accident & Emergency, Maternity, Medical admissions wards, mental health services and some elderly wards.

Following January's NHS SOS march in Kendal, which attracted 2,500 people, Morecambe Bay Primary Care Trust's managers have agreed NOT to axe the only adult mental health unit in the area. Morecambe Bay Hospitals Trust have also agreed that A&E and the award-winning maternity services will stay in place.

This is a great victory for our community and a testimony to the energy and efforts of our Socialist Party members. The Primary Care Trust (PCT) appeared shocked by the public anger directed towards them over the cuts and admitted that the so-called consultation process had in many ways been "unsatisfactory".

They conceded that the management has lost the public's trust and have been perceived negatively. At the board meeting NHS SOS's immense contribution was recognised and activists felt that our success was due to the community being willing to make a stand for its local NHS.

There's still work to do. The PCT unfortunately decided to press ahead with its proposed closure to ward 2, an elderly mental health ward, and we will keep making the case for the need for an elderly inpatient setting.

There is still a threat to medical wards (which will mean patients facing lengthy trips to Lancaster or Preston) and from the Hospitals Trust's plan to turn the hospital into a "centre of excellence" (at which "excellence" may be provided by private agencies). We will still oppose plans which put finances before patients.

Local people legitimately fear creeping privatisation and are angry at New Labour's contradictory policies which have undermined a hospital of which the community should be justifiably proud.

Local politicians want to jump on the bandwagon. Some of our hypocritical "representatives" had the nerve to come on our demonstration days after voting to close one of the wards! We on the other hand are continuing to promote a socialist alternative relevant to the people's needs.

Who's ripping off the NHS?

PEOPLE IN Britain are getting more pessimistic about the National Health Service. A new Mori poll says that 44% of people interviewed thought the NHS would get worse in the next few years as opposed to 22% who felt it would improve.

That's not surprising when, as well as cuts and closures, evidence is growing of private companies ripping off the NHS. Channel 4 News says Independent Sector Treatment Centres (ISTCs) are being paid millions by the NHS for operations that haven't been carried out.

Yorkshire and Trent primary care trust awarded Partnership Health Group (PHG) a 21-month contract to carry out 7,048 operations. Only 5,435 were performed but PHG charged the NHS 7 million for the 1,613 remaining operations.

Last December the socialist reported that a private company, Netcare, was overcharging the NHS 115 for each cataract eye operation. In a six-month period, West Oxfordshire primary care trust forked out 225,000 for 40,000 worth of work. Netcare charged for about 500 operations and assessments but only 93 were carried out.

Clinical problems are arising from ISTC treatments. Some patients are referred back to the NHS after botched operations, causing patients health problems and costing the NHS more money to remedy the situation.

NHS hospitals are having to repair damage done through sending patients to private centres for hip and knee replacements. The NHS expects failures of hip replacements at approximately 1% a year and knee replacements at 1.5%. But some ISTCs have failure rates of 20%; some contracts specify just one type of artificial joint and give staff inadequate training. No wonder 100 consultants accuse the ISTCs of having "destabilised the NHS".

The government said the ISTCs would expand NHS capacity and reduce waiting lists. But ISTC contracts cost up to 27% higher than equivalent operations performed within the NHS. This gross overcharging is estimated to cost 100 million of the current 800 million NHS debt.

We say:

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In The Socialist 16 March 2006:

Iraq: for the immediate withdrawal of all troops

Will the US bomb Iran?

Is there a way out of the Iraq quagmire?

Mass protests sweep France

The case for a new workers' party

Campaign for a New Workers' Party - come to conference!

Socialist Party discusses with Respect

'We reject New Labour's policies and philosophy'

Sticking to socialist principles, looking after the community

Success in Kendal

Jean Charles de Menezes: No more cover-ups!

Action to defend our pensions!

Still fighting for equal pay

PCS overtime ban - the issues

Parents back striking teachers

NUT executive - vote for Linda Taaffe


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