I’m currently recuperating at home after surgery last Friday for a most unwanted, but fortunately not serious health problem. My whole patient experience, from referral to admission to aftercare, can only be described as excellent. The NHS staff who looked after me were dedicated, skilled and efficient. They were friendly, helpful and, being aware of my nervousness, full of empathy. What’s more, they kept me fully informed, explaining anything I didn’t understand, even drawing me diagrams. Most importantly they put my care and comfort first, and for that I am forever grateful.
However this human face of the NHS didn’t hide a shortage of nursing staff. In the recovery room it was apparent, even through my morphine-induced high, that they were a person short; and one of the nurses later confirmed this. They also looked a little stretched on the ward. But it is to their credit that the support I received was at all times superb.
Of course the media are always very quick to highlight problems in the NHS, and there have certainly been serious ones in some Health Service Trusts. But when you think about how many patients are treated on the NHS, serious incidents remain rare. Clearly though funding remains a key issue. Before the last election, posters of David Cameron appeared which said he’d cut the deficit, not the NHS. But since then we’ve witnessed efficiency savings and a reorganisation that was, as far as I can tell, about as useful as a chocolate fire guard. Health professionals are very worried: In the last two years 35,000 NHS staff have been axed, including 5,600 nurses. Half of our 600 ambulance stations are earmarked for closure. One-third of NHS walk-in centres have been closed and 10% of A&E units have been shut.
If that isn’t scary enough, then take a look at the creeping privatisation. Last year a majority of new NHS contracts to provide services went to private companies. The Department of Health’s annual accounts show these companies benefited from public money to the tune of some £10 billion. That, frankly, is staggering. Nor is it just non-clinical services that are affected. GP services, mental health services, ambulance services and some maternity care are amongst a long list now being run, in some parts of the country, by the private sector.
Yet there is absolutely no evidence that the commercial market is more efficient or provides any benefits for patient outcomes. Indeed, these companies have to make a profit, and the quickest route to this is through staff savings. In other woods, by making cuts.
Further privatisation is planned of course. Another £5.8 billion worth is being advertsied at the moment. The British people didnt vote for a privately run health service, but we’re being given one anyway.
So I have two questions for Cameron. Firstly, when we have an excellent National Health Service why on earth do you want to privatise it? And secondly, once the service is in private hands, for how much longer will care and treatment such as I have experienced, remain free at the point of use?