There is no doubt that the NHS is under extreme pressure and with winter on its way, we can expect another crisis. The main problem is of course finance - 85% of our NHS trusts are now in deficit. This is a startling figure.
At the last election Labour promised an extra £6 billion for the NHS, fully costed. But the Conservatives trumped it with a promise of £8 billion, with no explanation of where they would get the money from and no scrutiny of their claims. Sure enough, we now find that the money isn’t there and the Commons Health Select Committee (Chaired by a Conservative MP) has found that their claims of additional funding are inaccurate and exaggerated.
The social care crisis is one cause of the costs ballooning: on any one day there are 70-80 elderly patients in the Countess of Chester who should be cared for elsewhere, but who can’t be discharged because there is nowhere for them to go. Again, Labour have proposed merging the NHS with the social care system to integrate the service, improve it and achieve better costings as well.
At the other end of the scale we are seeing community pharmacies under threat from government cuts which will put more money into the pockets of big chemist companies; and combine that with the reduction in the number of GPs and we start to get a picture of why more people are turning up at A&E to get the treatments they need. This is putting further pressure on our hospitals.
The latest threat to the NHS locally is the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP). This is the process that is being forced on the NHS by the government to save money through the re-organisation of local services. It is being carried out in secret and will likely lead to service mergers and more sharing. A few weeks ago, I was passed emails reporting the possibility of a long-term plan to close our own Countess of Chester Hospital and Arrow Park on the Wirral, and then merge these into a new super-hospital near Ellesmere Port. I am pleased to say that in the short term these plans have now been rejected. However, I remain vigilant about the threats to local services in Chester. That’s why I have launched a new campaign to demonstrate support for our local hospital and to build a network of likeminded residents who can coordinate a response to any such plans should they materialise in the future – please sign up to show your support and get future updates about this at thecountesscounts.org. Also please share this information with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues.
These articles from The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian illustrate the threat to our NHS from these STPs as identified by the leading thinktank The Kings Fund. My colleague Justin Madders (MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston) submitted Freedom of Information requests on each of these STPs and every request has been refused. Clearly there is something to hide.
Finally there was the news last week that the private company Virgin Healthcare has been awarded a £700 million contract to run adult social care services in Somerset. Cut backs and privatisation are not my prescription for an NHS that serves the needs of the people.
My fear is that things may yet get worse and I believe we will need a change of government to get the NHS we need, but I can assure you that for now I will not stop fighting for our NHS locally and nationally.