The Socialist 18 April 2018 |
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1,400 beds empty as patients lay in corridors: health unions must act now
Save our NHS demo 4.3.17, photo Mary Finch (Click to enlarge)
During the toughest year on record for the NHS, over 1,400 hospital beds in England were mothballed amid short staffing and lack of funds.
The 1,429 beds are now in 82 'ghost wards' - unusable despite overcrowding in hospitals over the winter crisis. The 'winter' crisis itself looks set to continue into the summer, compounding the deepening staff shortage.
Poor working conditions, stagnant pay, and ever-increasing demands on NHS workers, along with chronic underfunding, have left a staffing black hole in the NHS. Among the worst hit are nursing staff.
Over 160,000 nurses have been pushed out of the NHS in the last five years alone, according to a parliamentary answer to Labour. With the cuts to bursaries for nursing students, young nurses face racking up thousands of pounds debt to complete their training, and the staffing crisis looks set to worsen.
Hospital administrations across the country echo Tory policy on further dismantling the idea of a publicly owned, free health service. Instead of fighting for the funds to give crucial NHS staff with decent pay and working conditions, they create backdoor privatisation vehicles and have expensive agencies plug the gaps, further depleting stretched funding.
The shortage of beds is putting patients at risk. How many patients queued in corridors or stuck in ambulances outside A&E were there due to unusable empty beds?
And staff at Manchester Children's Hospital report that sick children are discharged early to free up beds and that staffing has reached dangerously low levels. They say children are being put in danger by low levels of staff on wards - and management forces staff themselves to train for free in their own time.
With a health secretary who co-authored a book including how to dismantle the NHS and replace it with a US-style market system, the deepening crisis in the NHS comes as no surprise. It's all part of the establishment's drive for profit at any cost.
Corbyn's manifesto pledged to restore £30 billion of funding to the NHS and reinstate nurses' training bursaries. These policies won huge popular support and remain one of the Tories' and Blairites' many vulnerabilities.
The health unions must lead the way: neither NHS workers nor patients can wait up to another four years for a general election. Coordinated industrial action - on pay, for example, alongside civil servants and teachers - could tear this divided government apart now.
The Socialist Party has shown what can be done to fight the Tory cuts. Workers and local campaigners have won victories against closures and cuts in Leicester, Mansfield and elsewhere with our members playing leading roles.
The unions must use their power to push for action on our NHS now. Corbyn should join the Socialist Party in calling for this, and for full public ownership of the healthcare sector.