We cannot let them turn Bevan’s dream into a nightmare

Conservatives NHS Funding

Jeremy Hunt told the 2015 Conservative Party Conference that, from next May, he will publish a league table of the best and worst hospitals for avoidable deaths. Isn’t there a need to publish the league table for best and worst health secretary for the National Health Service? Jeremy Hunt is the “Sunshine” Secretary. He took up his post as Secretary for State of Health promising to let transparency rule the day. But the truth about Hunt’s handling of our NHS is that he has sought to cloud and disguise his failings at every possible turn. And the irony is that he has made a cynical bid to rebrand the Tories as the party of the NHS.

We should have seen the writing on the wall when the coalition Government refused, against the Information Commissioner’s instructions, to publish the NHS risk register, or when the UK Statistics Authority asked ministers to stop spreading disinformation about the amount of cash they invested in the NHS.

More recently, the levels of NHS transparency have deteriorated even further. We can no longer monitor the crisis in accident and emergency departments as well as we would like. This after Hunt changed the frequency of data publication from weekly to monthly. Equally, we are less sure of the financial health of NHS trusts, as Government ministers have pressured Monitor, the health regulator in England, into delaying the publication of trust finances.

There is a motive to all of this. Prime Minister David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt are trying to disguise the fact that they broke NHS promises. Before the general election, Cameron promised to give the NHS extra money, but just five months later that promise is in tatters. We now know that this year trusts are £2 billion in deficit. Many hospital wards are being brought to their knees by the crisis.

The NHS family is being told to do more and more for less and less. Treat more patients, keep more services open 24/7, have ever-shorter waiting lists – all the while making £22 billion of savings by 2020.

We have been squeezing the lemon for “‘efficiency savings” for years. But it is getting to the stage where there is nothing left to squeeze. In increasing trouble, GPs services are being swamped by an increased workload caused by the A&E crisis. Some 550 GP practices closed in one six-month period last year. One third of NHS walk-in centres have also been closed or downgraded and this has reduced the capacity of our acute services by two million patients a year.

Also, the Government have closed nearly 10,000 NHS beds and 16 per cent of A&E wards. Debt is at an all time high, soaring numbers of the sick are waiting on trolleys in A&E, and key targets for treating cancer patients are being woefully missed. In addition, social care services have suffered a £2.6 billion real terms cut. This expected deficit could mean the loss of more than 20,000 nurses, 9,000 hospital registrars and 3,000 hospital consultants. At each and every juncture this government have sought to blame GPs and NHS staff rather than accept the self-evident truth. Government cuts are the main cause of the NHS’s current woes.

No one spends NHS taxpayers’ cash more efficiently than GPs. For every attendance at a GP instead of A&E, the Taxpayer saves £90. But Jeremy Hunt has made it harder for GPs to do their jobs. He has cut the cash GPs receive by £984 million since 2010. The level of unfilled vacancies has increased manifold since Hunt became health secretary. And his Government is training fewer doctors than we need. Cash is starved, and workforce morale is low.

Hunt has now sought to provoke a squabble with doctors by forcing through a new GP and junior doctors’ contracts. It is no wonder that recent reports showed that 5,000 doctors were preparing to move abroad.

The doctor per patient ratio has already fallen 4 per cent under this Government, and the indications are that if they continue along this path that will worsen to 8 per cent by 2018.

The concept of a seven-day GP practice may grab the headlines the Cameron and Hunt are looking for, but the Tories have not thought it through. Analysis by the Nuffield Trust and the King’s Fund shows that extending the opening times of GP practices had no discernible impact on the times patients prefer or choose to visit their doctor.

Evidence indicates that the vast majority of patients prefer to incorporate their GP visit into their normal weekly routine. That is the reason GPs have already extended early morning and opening hours during weekdays at their GP practice. But the Jeremy Hunt has deliberately sought a confrontation with doctors. His strategy is to wage a media campaign to discredit medical professionals who dedicate their lives to the NHS.

But the Conservative Government must be warned that it will fail. Patients and staff refuse to be pitted against each other. The Health Secretary has forced junior doctors into a corner and they will take the action that is needed to defend themselves. But they will do so in a way that does not adversely affect ordinary patients.

A financial crisis and a staffing crisis combined could cause ongoing chaos for years unless there is an urgent injection of cash. Unlike what was said at the Conservative conference by Cameron, all is not calm, stable and safe with the NHS in Tories hands. The public and the health profession need to stand shoulder to shoulder to defeat the ideological motives of David Cameron and his party to dismantle our beloved NHS. We cannot let Nye Bevan’s dream turn into a nightmare.

First published by Tribune