National Health Service Cutbacks and privatisation kill

Build for the 5 November demo

NHS demonstrations 3 March 2007., photo Paul Mattsson

NHS demonstrations 3 March 2007., photo Paul Mattsson

HEALTH SERVICE workers and users in Kent were shocked at news that hundreds of deaths over three years have been blamed on epidemics of illness caused by the bacterium clostridium difficile in hospitals in Maidstone, Pembury and Tunbridge Wells. Up to 345 patients may have died from it, some five times as many contracted it and suffered complications as a result.

Nigel Sheahan and Julian Wilson, Tunbridge Wells and Hastings Socialist Party

The NHS trust covered up the size of the problem for two years claiming only 21 deaths had been caused. Inspectors and bereaved relatives were not informed about the epidemic’s scale.

The bug was allowed to spread due to filthy conditions and lack of cleaning staff. The trust was obsessed with reaching financial saving targets and funding a PFI deal instead of looking after patients’ health.

A secretly filmed investigation had earlier exposed conditions in Kent and Sussex Hospital in Tunbridge Wells, described by an inspector as “the dirtiest I have ever seen”. Privatisation of cleaning services had led to cutbacks and falling standards. Wards were mopped with the same mops used for the toilets. Patients lay in dirty linen, showers and commodes were not cleaned properly and dirty mugs and plates were left in sinks in isolation areas.

The trust chairperson has now resigned, which followed the departure of the trust chief executive, Rose Gibb, by “mutual consent”. She had been promised a £250,000 ‘golden handshake’ despite her incompetence and cover-up, but as the police moved to investigate whether mass corporate manslaughter charges could be brought, health secretary Alan Johnson was compelled to suspend this payment.

This Kent scandal is the tip of the iceberg. Twenty-two of the 67 NHS foundation trusts are falling short of their targets set for reducing hospital-acquired infections. In pursuit of the cuts agenda NHS trusts across Britain seek swingeing cuts in services including closing maternity wards, accident and emergency departments, and entire hospitals, placing patients at greater risk.

Charges for dental treatment and the fact that around half of dentists are no longer treating NHS patients at all, have lead to the recently exposed horror of people resorting to treating themselves – including pulling out their own teeth.

In the government’s enthusiasm to turn the NHS into a business, privatising and ‘reforming’ as much as they can, lives have been lost and many have suffered.

Socialists and health campaigners, together with the NHS trade unions, must continue to expose the government’s privatisation and cuts agenda and its many tragic consequencies.

The only way to keep the NHS really safe is to kick out all private contractors and for it to be fully funded and under democratic control and accountability. Keep the vultures of privatisation out of our health service!