Sunday, May 20, 2007

NHS beset by bandwagoners and privatisers

by Stella Moutafis

IN EPSOM we have the dubious privilege of always being represented by a Conservative MP and the current MP, Chris Grayling, is well-known locally for jumping on any passing bandwagon – if it looks likely to raise his profile!
So he has been active in the campaigning that is happening here over an issue of major concern across the political spectrum – the future of our local hospitals.
On the 5th May, Grayling joined local hospital staff in a major protest event, organised by the public sector union Unison and local campaigners.
A hospital bed was pushed through the streets from St Helier Hospital in the Sutton area to central Epsom. This was followed by a rally and delivery of a letter of protest to the Epsom General Hospital (EGH) administration.
It was the second such event in the last year, part of a long-running campaign as these hospitals have had an uncertain future for some time.
A plan to close both and build a new super-size hospital has apparently been shelved. But they both face almost certain downgrading, with the controlling Trust planning to axe ever more beds, and possibly up to 500 staff, in a bid to make savings of £41 million!
Unfortunately the turnout was well below what had been hoped for - with the Epsom rally attracting a feeble 200 or so. Geoff Martin of the pressure group London Health Emergency, was one of the speakers.
He said that it is not feasible to cut £41 million from a local NHS budget without cutting services to a “dangerous level”. He also maintained that “politicians are responsive to public pressure”.
It seems more likely, though, in view of his small audience, that local people are weary of having their views ignored! Two of my neighbours, who work at Epsom hospital, were there.
A hospital porter and a secretary in the pathology department – they have been getting increasingly frustrated at the uncertainty – and continual changes at their place of work.
Members of the Residents’ Association, which controls Epsom and Ewell Borough Council, were busy handing out draft letters to the hospital administrators in support of their own pet scheme for EGH.
Local businessman Adrian White has offered to “buy out EGH” and then run it as a joint NHS and private hospital. He is the proprietor of Denbies Wine Estate, near Dorking, which produces quality wine and is a popular local visitor centre.
It could be argued that moving into healthcare provision is a natural progression for his activities – in other words if his hospital can’t make you better, then at least his wine might make you feel better!
But, joking aside, this is an alarming proposal. Are we seriously to consider going back to the dark ages when hospital treatment was only guaranteed to the well-off -- with the rest of the population reliant on charity?
Meanwhile members of the Unite union (Amicus section) who work at the National Blood Transfusion Service took part in a protest demonstration outside the Blood Centre in Birmingham High Street on Friday 11th May and all day Saturday 12th May.They were be protesting over plans to concentrate the work of processing and testing blood into just three centres in England and closing the other eleven centres.
A consultative ballot of Unite members working at the centres showed that 81 per cent are in favour of industrial action.
Kevin Coyne, Unite’s head of health, who attended the demonstration said: “Hundreds of technical and scientific staff jobs are being put at risk and these highly skilled jobs cannot just be recruited or relocated to different parts of the country. The NHS and the nation have invested millions in training these staff and now propose to just dispose of them.
“The blood supply for the Midlands would be put at risk in an emergency as the nearest centre will be in Bristol, depriving the Midlands of blood and the geographical gaps in the service will also mean long delays for the vital testing of blood for many thousands of people.”