Thursday, April 03, 2008

Saving the NHS from profit-mongers

CAMPAIGNERS last Monday protested outside the Department of Health in Whitehall over plans for three GP surgeries in Camden to be taken over by an American commercial health company. Keep Our NHS Public say the issue now occupies the “front line” in their battle against privatisation of the NHS. Camden Primary Care Trust’s decision to award the contract for the three surgeries to United Health had led to an outcry by local people.
One patient, Barbara Saunders, is attempting to block the contract by seeking a judicial review that the consultation was not carried out properly. Last week around 200 residents gave a no confidence vote in their PCT. The borough’s health scrutiny committee will now look into the issue.
The Prime Minister had refocused privatisation on primary care, having moved it away from hospital services to some extent by scrapping plans for third wave independent sector treatments centres and the pulling out of seven already under development last November.
The plan for United Health to run the Brunswick Medical Centre in Bloomsbury, the King’s Cross Road Practice and the Camden Road Surgery from April, would correspond with this.
But in London as elsewhere, it is not a plan with widespread public approval. In a statement the campaigners note: “The American multinational appears to have been favoured due to its promise of substantial cost cutting, sparking fear among patients that the standard of care will decline.”
Professor Wendy Savage, retired obstetrician and campaign supporter said: “We hear all the rhetoric about a patient-led NHS, but that seems to mean nothing if the patients disagree with the Government’s privatisation policies.”
And last Saturday around 200 campaigners marched from Blackheath through Lewisham, past Lewisham Hospital to protest at plans to close the Accident and Emergency Unit there.
The protest was supported by local Mayor Steve Bullock, who said: “Over the last few weeks a whole range of people across the borough have made it clear they are very, very concerned about any threat to Lewisham Hospital, especially accident and emergency and maternity services.”
The march was organised by the Greenwich and Lewisham pensioners’ forums. Frances Hook, chairwoman of Keep Our NHS Public, said: “We will be highlighting our belief that the A Picture of Health consultation has been neither fair nor transparent.
“We want a moratorium on the A Picture of Health because not everyone knows about the proposals and many of those who do have just found them confusing.”
The Picture of Health document proposes a series of options that could lead to the closure of one or more of four hospitals in Lewisham, Bromley, Woolwich and Sidcup and would hit services in all of them.
Far from having too many A&E units, attendances at south-east London’s A&Es increased by 28 per cent between 2002 and 2006. Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich would be expected to increase its emergency admissions by 40 per cent under these plans even though it often diverts ambulances to Queen Mary’s in Sidcup because of lack of beds.

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