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From The Socialist newspaper, 3 September 2008

NHS 'surplus' = cuts in care

HEALTH DEPARTMENT officials have announced that the government's spending policies will result in an expected NHS budget surplus of 1.75 billion by the end of the financial year.

Dave Carr

But patients denied life-saving drugs and treatments and NHS workers and communities facing cutbacks, (including ward and A&E closures), are fuming over this massive budget underspend.

The 'surplus' comes two years after the then health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, banned health trust chiefs from 'rolling over' any deficits to the next financial year.

(Many NHS trusts are cash-strapped, mainly because of funding financially punitive privatisation schemes.) This policy resulted in 23,000 nursing jobs being axed in England and Wales and widespread hospital ward closures.

The surplus announcement coincides with news that NICE (the quango that approves the use of drugs in the NHS) has vetoed four new drugs for treating kidney cancer (despite their use elsewhere in Europe and North America) because it deemed them to be 'not cost effective'.

Although Primary Care Trusts aren't legally obliged to accept NICE recommendations, inevitably its decisions lead to a postcode lottery of treatments for patients.

The chief executive of NICE also had to publicly apologise after NICE took two-and-a-half years to evaluate the drug Lucentis for treating an age-related eye disease. During this time thousands of patients lost their sight.

So when the government boasts of achieving an NHS budget surplus, it really means cuts to patient care.

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