A group of NHS workers and campaigners have begun a series of marches with the intention of raising awareness regarding the extent of cuts to the health service.
The ‘Footprints March for the NHS‘ will take place between 22nd and 29th October, with NHS campaigners, workers and members of the public all invited to participate.
Hospitals based in County Durham, Teesside and North Yorkshire will all be involved, with the intention of protesting cuts to NHS services which campaigners believe put lives at risk.
Setting out from Northallerton, North Yorkshire, the march will take in hospitals in Darlington, Bishop Auckland, Consett, Durham, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough and Stockton.
Public meetings, rallies and social events will be held along the route.
In particular, the march is intended to address “Sustainability and Transformation Plans” (STP) in the NHS.
NHS England has stated that these plans are intended to…
“help ensure that health and care services are built around the needs of local populations. To do this, every health and care system in England will produce… STP, showing how local services will evolve and become sustainable over the next five years – ultimately delivering the Five Year Forward View vision of better health, better patient care and improved NHS efficiency”.
…but many have been critical of the scheme, and the march hopes to shine the light on the potential consequences of these plans.
Campaigners involved in the march are also critical of the Five Year Forward View, believing it to be “privatisation by stealth”, implemented to ensure that dramatic cuts to services are made, with the intention of ultimately involving private industry more extensively in the NHS.
With trusts under pressure to make cuts in order to tackle deficits, the marchers contend that diminishing quality and quantity of services is inevitable.
Furthermore, documents uncovered by the campaigners suggest that financial responsibility will be removed from individual hospitals and medical centres, and placed under the authority of each of the 44 Footprint areas.
NHS England’s recently published Planning Guidance for the next two financial years brings in mandatory ‘control totals’, or financial targets, for STP Footprint areas.
In essence, completely remove financial control from individual hospitals.
Additionally, Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, has indicated his desire for Footprint areas to become ‘combined authorities’, effectively bringing together NHS service commissioners and care providers.
This could end decision-making at local NHS level.
It is clear that protest is essential in this climate, with much of the general public unaware of how the NHS is slowly but surely being changed.
As concerns grow about privatisation in the NHS, a group took to the streets of the Bath in order to gather support for a campaign against what it sees as the growing private influence in the health service.
Members of Protect Our NHS Bath and North East Somerset joined other groups around the country to campaign for the NHS Reinstatement Bill.
Pam Richards led the group, and spoke to the media about the importance of this issue, indicating her belief that the government is effectively attempting to privatise the NHS via the backdoor.
Richards stated that the bill, which is due to be tabled in Parliament in the coming days, requires the NHS to “return to being a comprehensive service with public accountability and public provision”.
“[The bill] aims to abolish the market in the NHS because it is wasting public money on administration and diverts public funds into private companies,” Richards commented.
The NHS choir sung songs in support of the NHS at the protest, while more than 20 volunteers distributed leaflets and gathered signatures around Bath on Saturday.
Richards added that she “was very heartened by the tremendous support for the campaign and how strongly people feel about the creeping privatisation of the NHS.”
Recent campaigns have focused on the level of Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) in the NHS, and the extent that private companies have been able to integrate with the existing health service architecture.
The Conservative government has been particularly criticised over this issue, although it is notable that PFI was in fact greatly increased under the Labour government led by Tony Blair.
Meanwhile, major American healthcare corporations in particular are beginning to take control of NHS contracts, and there is general concern, particularly among the ideologically left-leaning, that the ethos of the NHS has been critically altered.
While there are question marks regarding the ability of private companies to deliver the same quality of care as the public sector, it is also believed by opponents of the general trends in the NHS that profit-driven companies will never have the same duty of care as a public body.
Furthermore, it is argued that by privatising the service, the government is failing to deliver a transparent and effective service to taxpayers.
Protect Our NHS BANES plans to send a petition to Bath MP Ben Howlett urging him to support the Private Members’ Bill when it is tabled in Parliament on Friday by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion) and a cross-party group of MPs.
Some 76 MPs support the bill, according to the website of the Campaign for the NHS Reinstatement Bill.
With protests across the country, it is clear that there is no shortage of support for the concept, regardless of whether it receives parliamentary backing.
NHS data would seem to suggest that profit is being prioritised over services to patients.
Information indicates that there has been a surge in income from private patients over the past five years, and that this has correlated strongly with a general slump in standards.
The aggregate income from private patients jumped by over £100 million in the last five years; a rise of nearly 50% in this decade alone.
This information was acquired from a written parliamentary response by the Health Minister Alistair Burt.
Meanwhile, Freedom of Information requests distributed to specific NHS trusts have revealed that the constituents of Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, are among those leading the charge towards private profit.
And private patient income at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, which serves the Health Minister Jane Ellison’s constituents, rose by 88 per cent, from £8.18m in 2010 to £15.4m in 2015.
A spokesperson for Chelsea and Westminster Hospital defended the policies of the institution, suggesting that they were economically viable.
“In 2014/15, our private patient income was £15.4m, which represents 4.1 per cent of our income that year. Private patient income allows us to provide services which we would be unable to afford with income derived solely from the NHS.”
Royal Surrey County Hospital, which serves Mr Hunt’s constituents, increased its private patient income from £3.16m in 2010 to £4.03m last year.
The issue will be of great concern to those passionate about the NHS as a public service, as in principle the health service should be funded by public money.
And recent legislative changes have arguably led to the existing situation.
A late amendment to the 2012 Health and Social Care Act allowed foundation hospitals to raise 49 per cent of funds from non-NHS work.
Increasingly, the suggestion is made by campaigners that private money is impacting the NHS negatively, and failing to deliver an adequate level of customer care.
A spokesman for the Keep Our NHS Public campaign was predictably scathing about the figures, and suggested that it was a sad indictment of the current culture of the NHS and the government.
“This shows the worst aspects of the ‘marketisation’ of the NHS: focusing on a quick buck while the system around you collapses. The NHS needs to be rid of this vampiric spectre once and for all: healthcare is not about profit, it is not about competition. Public funding and public accountability are what matters.”
Shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander indicated her beliefs that this is an absolutely critical issue.
“The public has a right to know what impact private work has on waiting times.”
Figures released via a Freedom of information request have revealed that health boards in Scotland have paid private firms a record £82.5 million in order to treat patients.
This represented a significant increase from the £75 million figure for the same services acquired in the previous fiscal year.
Public spending on private healthcare has more than doubled since the turn of the century.
The increase in spending has occurred despite the statements of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who promised to reduce the level of privatisation of the NHS in Scotland.
Yet the picture gleaned from this information is that regional health trusts in Scotland are increasingly relying on private firms in order to carry out everyday operations.
Waiting time targets are thought to be a particular issue for the health service, and the major reason that the NHS is turning to private contractors.
Speaking on the controversy, Scottish Labour public services spokesman Dr Richard Simpson said: “These figures reveal the hypocrisy of the SNP around our NHS. They will campaign in elections against privatisation of our NHS while handing over increasing amounts of taxpayer cash to private health firms.
“Spending more taxpayer cash on private health services is an indication of the problems experienced by our NHS. It is clear they don’t have the capacity to deliver the care patients across Scotland need.”
Although the figures in Scotland are separate to those of NHS England, they can nonetheless be placed in the context of the health service suffering from massive deficits.
Already it has been predicted that NHS England will accumulate a deficit of £2 billion by the end of the financial year, and the suggestion that it is necessary for the health service to rely on private firms in order to deliver every day care further sullies this picture.
Yet Simpson also suggested that the level of expenditure could be cut via efficiency savings.
“The spending is also wasteful, as locum doctors and agency nurses as well as private procedures are inevitably charged at a higher rate than they would be in the public sector. Despite this increase in private sector spending, the SNP still can’t meet their own treatment time guarantee, which gave patients a legal right to be seen within 12 weeks.”
One must emphasise that Simpson is naturally motivated to some extent by political manoeuvring, but David Forbes, regional organiser for Unison, was certainly in agreement with his opinion.
“There has been an over-use of the private sector, who have been making obscene profits out of the public purse. That has been partly due to the unintended consequences of meeting very tight waiting time targets. Cuts are having to be made to balance the books because so much money is leaching out from the NHS into these private companies.”
The Conservative government in England has been accused of privatising the NHS by the back door, but these figures also indicate that regardless of political persuasion this remains a logistical issue across Britain.