Tuesday, 29 August 2017

A Vicious Circle. Save our Health Service!

A few days ago, the 5 regional Health and Social Care Trusts in the north published an overview of their plan to make a collective £70 million of budget cuts in this fiscal year. These plans have been put out by the respective Heath Care Trusts for a six-week consultation period at the end of which cuts will be made accordingly. The Western Trust which covers Derry, Strabane, Omagh, a proportion of the Causeway coast and Glensborough Council area has outlined its proposal to cut the budget by £12.5million.

In June of this year senior members of the British Medical Association accused Theresa May and British Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, of “consciously” creating a crisis within hospitals “to distract the public from an underfunded service under severe and intense strain” this whilst scapegoating doctors and medical staff. This was raised at the union’s annual representative meeting in Bournemouth, where a motion to challenge government plans was passed. A selling point of the motion came as it emerged that the Government has plans to sell off an NHS staffing agency which saves the health service £70m a year. Oh the Irony, here we have the sale of an asset which saves the British government £70m whilst at the same time in the north health care budgets are to be cut by the same amount. One can only marvel at the logic of these people and how they come to their decisions!

Ask yourself why would any government want to sell off an asset which saves the health service money when other areas are trying to cut down on the number of non-NHS agency staff. In my view this is about making the system unworkable and speeding up the process of privatisation? But then again these are the same Tories who sold off Plasma Resources UK an NHS publicly owned company to Bain Capital a private equity firm set up by American Politician Mitt Romney for £230 million pounds. The company was then sold on 3 years later to a Chinese company for £820 million pounds.

Locally within the Western Trust’s savings plan there is a proposed reduction to the number of non-NHS locums, nursing agency and agency Social work staff. This is expected to save the Western trust an estimated £1.6m. The problem is, this cut will also mean the loss of approximately 30 beds/care spaces across medical and care of the elderly wards at a time when hospitals are already stretched to capacity.

In addition to this is the proposed cut of £1.16m to domiciliary care totaling 275 packages and the loss of 8-10 nursing home places which will mean: The consolidation of care homes, less respite care and less availability for people requiring healthcare treatment and care packages. As this move will also see ‘bed blocking’ with patients being kept in hospital for longer periods in the absence of a care home place or a heath care package which will lead to increased hospital costs and even longer waiting lists. As I see it he above plans are nonsensical and will not prove beneficial or cost effective in the long term. Privatisation by making the system unworkable?

The above announcement follows on from a not so well publicised plan by the Department of Health entitled ‘Reshaping Stroke Services’. Stroke is the main cause of adult disability in the UK. 'The fourth largest cause of death and two thirds of those who survive stroke have a life changing disability'. This consultation is due to close on September 15, 2017 and whilst packaged under the guise of ‘reshaping stroke services’ this involves cuts to and the relocation of stroke services in the north.

Five of the proposals outlined in the consultation document include the words ‘an appropriate number’ which would seem to be the new term given to the reduction of services. When treating a stroke timing is paramount with regards to assessment for the clot busting treatment known as thrombolysis. Yet proposal 2 suggests providing ‘assessment for clot busting treatment thrombolysis on an appropriate number of sites’.

Staff members and a patient from the Stroke unit in Altnagelvin hospital here in Derry have contacted me concerned that the reduction in stroke services will impact on the service currently available at Altnagelvin. There is a strong suspicion among staff that the ‘thrombolysis’ treatment will be relocated to either Enniskillen or Belfast which will cause difficulties not only for staff but for patients required to travel a huge distance to avail of this treatment, with time of the essence in these cases. Somebody should maybe take time to remind the department of health that the ‘T’ in the F.A.S.T. acronym stands for time and not travel. As with the above, these plans need to be opposed in the strongest possible terms by all right-thinking people.

Now on a related but separate note. With many illnesses when people leave hospital they are required to avail of alternative supported accommodation or floating support. These services are funded through the Supporting People Scheme which is administered through the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. This scheme provides funding for a range of support services to assist vulnerable people to live independently in their community.

In Derry alone there are 59 sheltered and supported Housing schemes and 9 floating support services. Figures published by NICVA in 2015 stated that Supporting People saves the public purse £125.05 million pounds per annum. In real terms, this means that for every £1 spent on Supporting People, there is a £1.90 saving. Despite this the core budget of the scheme which has been frozen for the past 10 years is set to be cut by a further £3million which will impact on existing services. How this can be justified given the money saved by the scheme is anyone’s guess, but proof that everything is being slashed irrespective of the benefits to people or ‘government’.

With so much focus on cuts we must be practical about where additional money could be secured to fund health services, outside of saddling our great grandchildren with more Private Finance Initiative debt. And very simply this could have been achieved through not replacing the trident nuclear weapons system which will cost an estimated £205 billion. How any elected representative could justify such an obscene amount of money for such obscene weapons of mass destruction whilst people cannot get adequate health care is beyond rational comprehension. And when we look for answers locally we need look no further than the 5 DUP MP’s and two former UUP MP’s who voted for these nuclear weapons.

This image which was shared yesterday by the Derry Trade Union Council shows the wages paid to
MLA’s from March of this year. A scandalous amount of money when you consider that these elected representatives have not been doing their job . Moreover, these people are now sitting back as plans being made by Civil Servants and plans of old lack common sense, foresight and long-term planning.

Central to this problem is that the 2 main partners in ‘government’ have no joined-up approach and are more focused on representing their individual political positions than doing what is right for people. My question to those MLA's is, with Supporting People Services being cut, care home places set to be reduced and the number of hospital beds being cut, as well as cuts to domiciliary care and stroke services, what are people supposed to do and where are they supposed to go when these plans eventually clash and conflict?  And more importantly, what are you going to do about it?

Sadly, this is more than likely the tip of the iceberg and with a lack of governance here we are forced to look in the direction of Westminster and if you think of the Health Service you have to think about Tory Health Minister Jeremy Hunt who recently crossed swords with Professor Stephen Hawking, when Professor Hawking stated that Hunt was cherry picking evidence to support his policies. Now I think when it comes down to it I’ll stand with Professor Hawking a proud supporter of the NHS, as opposed to Mr Hunt, a member of party decimating the NHS, well that coupled with the fact Hawking is a genius and Hunt is a Tory minister! lol

Late last year the NHS saved my father’s life, the treatment and care he received from every person he came into contact with was second to none. So, if you want to know why I feel so angry about the cuts to services you now do, and if you like me have had a loved one saved by the NHS you will share my despair for what passes for governance here coupled with the Tory led privatisation of the NHS.

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