Does a £30 billion ‘black hole’ in the NHS signal its demise?

NHS staff striking over pay outside St Richard's Hospital in Chichester last month
NHS staff striking over pay outside St Richard's Hospital in Chichester last month

THE NHS, already dominating local headlines, has skyrocketed its way back into the national media in recent weeks with reports suggesting it will soon run out of money.

An ageing and growing population, along with cost increases means the NHS needs £30bn more than its proposed level of funding just to maintain services as they are now, based on data compiled by the Nuffield Trust revealed.

Here in the Chichester district a multi-million pound health contract going to private consortium Bupa CSH Ltd has dominated the local news agenda, with thousands of readers backing the Observer’s A&E SOS campaign to safeguard local accident and emergency services.

And last week nurses, midwives and hospital workers at St Richard’s went on strike for the first time in decades over pay.

The level of concern from residents over what will happen to their NHS was illustrated by more than 100 people attending a meeting at St Paul’s Church last week entitled ‘What’s Happening To Our NHS?’

The meeting was organised by local campaign groups CoastalWestSussex38Degrees, Keep our NHS Public and Don’t Cut Us Out with the support of Chichester and Bognor Green Party.

Two sides of the same coin

Margaret Guest, chairman of Don’t Cut Us Out, said the outsourcing of services received by elderly and disabled people to private companies had led to some ‘chronic failures’.

She said: “I want to share some of the links between what’s been happening to social care and what we see happening, at least the beginnings of, in Coastal West Sussex in the NHS.

“Over the last three years while we have been campaigning on behalf of vulnerable people who have lost their care support, £31m of it, what we have found is that many of these cuts, or efficiency savings, have been found by outsourcing of social care.

Speakers at a public meeting on privatisation in the NHS

Speakers at a public meeting on privatisation in the NHS

“Our local county council is determined, and ideologically set on outsourcing all our adult social care and many of its other services as well.”

Mrs Guest said West Sussex County Council was moving towards being a ‘commission-only council’ which will see ‘more and more private providers of public services in West Sussex’.

She said the outsourcing of services to private companies had led to higher costs but a lower quality of care’.

“Many of you will be aware that health and social care are two sides of the same coin.

“Social care is fundamental to people’s health and wellbeing.

“Unfortunately here in West Sussex we’ve had examples of chronic failure from the private sector.

“Orchid View, run by Southern Cross, closed in 2011 following the deaths of 19 very vulnerable people in their care.

“More recently, Oakhurst Grange, a Bupa nursing home, where there were people with high level nursing needs and dementia, was closed as a result of scathing care quality commission inspection and report.

“Staff were found not to be properly trained, not understanding patients’ needs, and this even after Bupa had sent in an improvement team.

“These were serious failings in private care.

“However I know of many private homes in West Sussex that do provide excellent care, and that some public care homes elsewhere in the country have failed to safeguard vulnerable people too.”

Bleak outlook

Dr Lucy Reynolds, an expert in health policy and legislation who gives talks around the country, painted a bleak picture for the future of the NHS.

She said that of the NHS hospitals we have across the country, a third would be turned into Private Finance Initiative (PFI) hospitals and the rest sold off for housing or for retail.

She said: “In the future, the NHS will still be tax-funded, partially, but we will also be expected to pay, either by insurance premiums or paying doctor’s bills directly.

“What we will end up with is a model of care very much like what they have in America. They have something called Medicare, which is free health care for only the very poor, elderly or disabled, while everyone else is expected to buy their own health insurance.

“CCGs are financing mechanisms with a board, on which some people are GPs. Some are going hell- for-leather privatising services as fast as they can and this behaviour has sadly been positively encouraged by the government.

“If we allow private companies to come in and take that money away then there will be less and less available to treat sick people.

“The system is about to fall apart and the government want someone to take the blame for it so GPs are taking the brunt of it.”

“We need communities to help their CCGs to resist the pressure to raid the NHS budget.

Nurses not on viable wage

Sian Rabi Laleh, national officer on health for UNISON, spoke on what she called an ‘historic week for the National Health Service’.

She said: “For the first time in 32 years we have gone out on strike. It was a hard choice because the staff want to be there for their patients, which is why the strike was only four hours, not 24 hours.

“You have to ask yourself, why is it, in the 21st Century, we live in a society that is willing to pay MPs a ten per cent pay rise, but is not willing to pay nurses, porters or domestic staff a one per cent pay rise.”

Mrs Laleh said one of the main concerns among staff was that they could lose their NHS pay and benefits, such as maternity pay, if they are suddenly employed by a private company.

“If you are a member of NHS staff who gets taken over by a private company, such as Bupa, you will no longer get paid what the NHS staff get paid, there is no longer that funding link between the two.

“We have £35,000 staff “This is an ideological attack on the NHS, it’s all about driving down terms and conditions, because that makes the NHS ripe for privatisation. You look at what’s happened to adult social care, that is what could happen with the NHS.”