One success in the battle against privatisation has been the widely reported victory by the community of Langwith in Derbyshire against the award of a local GP contract to United Heath Care. The local Primary Care Trust was found to have been guilty at the court of Appeal of not consulting local people about the tendering process and how the contract would be awarded. This is a great victory for the principle that as a public service the NHS should be publically accountable. New Labour have done their best to create a situation where such an obligation is at best only a paper exercise. The old structures of Community health Councils was abolished and decisions taken behind closed doors. Pam Smith, a local pensioner, who took the lead in the case has said that she would now want the PCT to give residents a vote on who provides medical services in to the community in the future.
Elizabeth Barrett, a GP in Creswell and one of the unsuccessful bidders, said ‘no-one in the area had ever heard of UHE. We were told that this was a ‘Young British company’. It was, in fact, the largest private healthcare corporation in the US.’ The decision means the process will have to be restarted with a more transparent process. The ongoing suspicion was that the UHE bid was put together as a loss leader to give the multi-national a toe hold in primary care and the extensive commissioning budgets held by GPs. KONHSP has called the decision ‘a complete and total victory’ which provides a ‘model for other communities’ in their fight against privatisation.
Continued controversy over the delays and costs of Connecting for Health the national IT programme for the NHS have continued to hold the headlines. Accenture and the other big private sector contractors announced profit warnings and seen share prices fall. More worryingly there have been serious criticisms made of the whole project by a range of experts. The British Computer Society, the chartered institute for British IT professionals, has thrown its weight behind calls for a review of the over-budget and delayed NHS IT project. In a leaked letter to academics the Chairman of the BCS, Glyn Hayes, lists concerns over the project. He questions the suitability of the system's centralised "spine" for the complex NHS network and points to a lack of planning in some areas. BT, which has faced problems with its software partner for the scheme, is building the spine and is also responsible for delivering new IT to London. The 10-year contract for the capitol will total £996m, only £1.3m of which BT has received for the first two years work. Many have blamed iSoft, developer of the main plank of software for the programme, for the delays with the company's two partners saying that the software, named Lorenzo, has "no believable plan for release". Continued delays are expected for years to come with no prospect of ever arriving at a useful outcome. However the government remains committed to the plan and the handing over of more millions to the private sector.
10,000 say 'no' to hospital stitch up
More than 10,000 people have signed their name in protest to threatened services at North Manchester General Hospital. The hugely successful campaigns prompted thousands to make their mark by signing petitions and sending letters of complaint. Due to the wealth of responses the decision, which was expected to be made by health bosses by September, has had to be postponed until December. The 'Making It Better' consultation could see accident and emergency services and maternity services moved from North Manchester General Hospital to hospitals in Bury and Oldham. A bitter battle has seen thousands of people rise up in protest to the changes which they believe would put hundreds of people at risk. Collectively, campaigns and petitions across the city have generated an unprecedented 50,000 responses from the public, patients and staff during the four-month consultation period between January and May this year.
Successful foundations 'are hiding surpluses'
Some foundation trusts are reluctant to show surpluses because they fear a backlash over their relative wealth, according to regulator Monitor. Some foundations hid their surpluses as contingency funds. Monitor also expressed concern over loans to other NHS bodies that were struggling to balance their books. It did not object to the loans in principle but said they should include legally binding terms for repayment. A Monitor spokesman said: 'We have found in certain foundation trusts a reluctance to show surpluses in a challenged health economy, as they fear the money might be "clawed back" by strategic health authorities or primary care trusts, which undermines the incentives this system is designed to generate.'
Calls for strike in hospital row
An acrimonious dispute over staff car parking and charges for childcare at Sheffield's Northern General Hospital is threatening to escalate into strike action. Unions are holding a rally today outside the hospital to draw public attention to the situation, which has left some nursing staff and other workers without anywhere to leave their cars at work - in effect wiping out the benefits of this year's pay award.
MPs scrutinise mental health cuts
The Commons health select committee has promised to investigate claims that more than £30m has been plundered from mental health budgets to bail out deficits in other sectors. The committee has taken evidence from mental health charity Rethink which has been running a campaign highlighting areas where mental health budgets are being slashed. Cuts are being reported across England from Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Nottingham, London and Sussex. Gloucestershire Partnerships trust has recently concluded a consultation on proposals to make over £9.3m savings. Cheltenham town council has written to Patricia Hewitt complaining about the package, which means reductions in older people's services on 12 sites and at six sites for adult services. Hertfordshire Partnership trust, which has run at a surplus for four years, has been asked to contribute over £5m to help pay off debts in local acute trusts. The trust is planning to achieve this by closing an acute ward, a day unit, the early intervention team and making staff reductions across community mental health teams, as well as in psychology, older people's services and learning disabilities. Mental health is able to be singled out as a soft target for cuts as it is not seen as being as popular with the public as other services. However with one in five of us requiring treatment and help with mental health problems at some stage during our lives it is not a service that can be ignored. The cost of depression and other treatable mental illnesses is small compared to the amount of distress, work and family time lost to them. The failure of the government to include mental health as a national target has just served to reinforce to managers that these services can be cut with impunity at a cost to some of the most vulnerable and at risk in our communities.
Will they never learn?
Despite the evidence of their own National Audit Office New Labour remains committed to PFI. 11 NHS hospital projects, which are currently under review, will receive a decision in the autumn. They are: Hillingdon Hospital redevelopment - £271m; Leeds Maternity and Childrens Hospital scheme - £204m; North Bristol and South Gloucestershire scheme - £310m; North Mersey Future Healthcare Project - £1bn; Northwick Park and St Marks redevelopment - £305m; Papworth Hospital NHS Trust redevelopment - £148m; Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital Stanmore scheme - £121m; Sandwell and West Birmingham Acute Trust - £591m; Southend Hospital redevelopment - £100m; Taunton Surgical Centre - £75m; Watford and Hatfield Hospitals redevelopment - £880m. That’s another couple of billion handed over to the private sector for mortgages on hospitals that even when paid off they keep the keys. Anyone who stills believes that the NHS is not being privatised should consider that in twenty years time a large proportion of the biggest hospitals will be owned not by the NHS but the private sector as these deals come to fruition.
On a more positive note Septembe sees a number of demonstrations in amongst other places Sheffield, Liverpool, Hinckley, Nottingham, Pontefract and Lancaster.
Further details of all the above and of demonstrations and meetings in September can be found at www.keepournhspublic.com