By Stan Crooke
Along with many other health trusts around the country Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) are currently running a deficit. In the Cambs Trust area it is some £40 million. The Trust has already identified £17 million worth of planned cuts in services: £9 million in hospital services, £3 million in prescriptions, £4 million in mental health, and £1 million in primary care. These cuts will be replicated right across the country.
Across the East of England as a whole, the NHS is heading for a deficit of £211 millions. More than 450 hospital beds have already been closed, or are scheduled to close — plus the closure of a further seven hospital wards. Twenty five smaller community hospitals or day units are to be either shut completely or substantially reduced in size. More than 800 jobs in the health service will be axed.
The proposed cutback in mental health spending in Cambridge represents 14% of the total local mental health budget. £3 million is to be cut from the budget of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mental Health Partnership Trust, and the remaining million from the voluntary sector and other mental health trusts.
These cuts involve: closure of two long-term rehabilitation wards, closure of a further 22 acute beds and an entire ward for older people by autumn of 2006, closure of the Cambridge Day Centre, closure of the Cambridge Young Persons Services Day Programme (for youth in the 20-25 age bracket), scrapping of the Dementia Drug Service, cutting back the provision of Older People’s Day Services, and cutting the budget for arts therapies.
The equivalent of around 120 full-time posts are to be axed.
The proposed mental health cuts are nominally the subject of public consultation, with a four month period of consultation ending on 10 January. But two months ago the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mental Health Partnership Trust announced that in the five remaining months of the financial year cuts of £500,000 would have to be implemented each month.
In other words: cut first, and then consult!
Referrals to the Young Persons Services Day Programme have been “suspended”. Wards at Fulbourn Hospital near Cambridge have been instructed to stop using nursing and administrative agency staff and medical agency locums. And a number of wards have either been “amalgamated” or closed “temporarily”, or admissions and transfers to them have been suspended.
The Trusts “justify” the cuts by saying that they “need to reduce spending in every area to achieve our statutory duty to ‘live within our means’.” The cutbacks are for the purpose of “bringing spending back into budgetary limits.” At the same time, the cuts will allow for “the modernisation of services and community living” in line with “our locally agreed strategic vision and national policy.”
Neither of these “justifications” for the cuts is accurate. The notion that the PCTs are living “beyond their means” ignores the root cause of their budgetary problems: the failure of the government to provide PCTs with the funding which they need to provide an adequate service. And promoting “community living”, in this context, means dumping people with mental health problems in the community in the absence of adequate support.
A recent survey by the “Rethink” charity found evidence of cuts in mental health spending throughout the country, and warned of “serious implications for those people directly affected by mental health problems — service-users and carers.”
But campaigning to prevent the cuts from going ahead is not just a question of securing an increase in central government funding. The destruction in the NHS wrought by eight years of New Labour is such that even increased funding can — and does — simply disappear into the pockets of private companies, the banks, accountants, and external consultants.
Fighting cuts in health service spending everywhere means challenging the government’s policy of treating health care as a business to be hived off to the private sector, with the government paying private profiteers ever larger amounts of money to provide an ever deteriorating quality of service.