Privatisation Act lies behind the A&E crisis

Alison Hill

There’s a crisis in A&E provision in Britain’s hospitals. Government statements have blamed this on people being unable to get access to GPs, especially out of hours, and an ageing population.

But a new report has let the cat out of the bag, exposing the fact that NHS chiefs have been so overwhelmed with introducing the government’s Health and Social Care Act they ignored the warnings of a developing crisis in staffing of A&E units.

The College of Emergency Medicine says that NHS trusts have failed to recruit enough doctors trained in emergency medicine for three years running. The Health and Social Care Act – designed to throw the doors of the NHS open to private companies and private profit – was more important than keeping A&E units properly staffed.

The College estimates that there is a shortage of 375 emergency doctors, leaving a shortfall of “750,000 patients a year who aren’t going to be seen.”

What has been Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s reaction to this crisis? He rings up the hospital bosses who are missing their targets for A&E performance. Even the boss of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) says this is “crazy”.

The consequences of these policies have been graphically shown at the Barking, Havering and Redbridge Trust in east London.

The CQC has put the Trust into ‘special measures’ because of poor performance, notably in A&E which has been suffering from a shortage of properly trained doctors. But the CQC don’t mention the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deals which have also contributed to the trust’s crisis.

It’s time to drop the drive to privatisation. Time to abolish PFI, which is saddling hospitals with unpayable debt. And time to bring the whole NHS into democratic public control, where long-term planning can be re-established.

A London health worker writes:

“Ads on the radio urging people not to use A&E? Seriously? This is a public health menace! Why have health professionals if Joe Public can self-diagnose what is an emergency?

Many life threatening conditions start off with seemingly benign symptoms. Added to this, NHS Direct is replaced with an inferior privatised telephone health service. And then there’s a confusing array of clinics and walk-in centres that are threatened with cuts and closures too!

In better times patients went to fully functional A&Es knowing that whatever was wrong would be put right. That’s why ‘triage’ existed, so that trained nurses could sort out minor and major ailments and dispatch patients accordingly. Putting this responsibility onto the patient is both inappropriate and dangerous.

Discouraging people from accessing healthcare will inevitably lead to increased deaths and disease.”