The NHS crisis may not be hitting the headlines as it did last month but that does not mean it is over. In fact all the indicators reveal a deepening and progressive crisis across all aspects of health care.
The latest NHS bed occupancy rates are the highest ever recorded for a third quarter since data collections began in 2010.
Six acute trusts had general and acute bed occupancy rates over 99 per cent. (reported in today’s Health Service Journal). The recommended upper limit for bed occupancy is 85%. Many hospitals simply don’t have enough beds to admit patients to even though they are running each and every available bed as “hot” as possible. This is reflected in record corridor waits of sick people waiting for a bed to be available. 60,000 people waited in December for a bed – a six fold increase on the same month 5 years ago. Corridor waits increase risk to patients dramatically.
15,000 hospital beds have been cut in the past 6 years.
The lack of hospital beds is further exacerbated by delayed discharge of patients due to the cuts to social care funding. Yet the government is continuing with plans to close hospitals and cut the numbers of hospital beds. The North West London Sustainability and Transformation Plan, for example, envisages a reduction of 500 beds. And the Government has no credible plans to reverse the cuts to social care funding.
Some of the trusts with high bed occupancy were mental health trusts and this reflects the severe lack of mental health beds across England, forcing many patients to be sent hundreds of miles away for the care they need.
Dr Louise Irvine, a London GP and Health Campaigns Together says:
"This is scandalous and gives the lie to the government’s claim to be promoting “parity of esteem” between mental and physical healthcare. Unless what they really mean is “parity of neglect”. The bed cuts are part of the drive to cut NHS expenditure to achieve £22 billion of “efficiency savings’ by 2020. This will only be achieved by cuts to services, staff and the range of treatments offered to patients."
RATIONING HIP AND KNEE OPERATIONS
The harsh impact of the cost cutting drive is seen in the news this week - Clinical Commissioning Groups are rationing access to hip and knee replacements using criteria that have not been approved by clinicians. The CCGs have stated that they need to ration services in order to stay within budget. But the lack of good clinical evidence to underpin their decisions shows these are arbitrary decisions to save money rather than to improve patient care.
Another way that “savings” will be made will be to reduce NHS staffing levels – even though current staffing levels are too low, with record levels of unfilled posts, and evidence that inadequate staffing increases the risk to patients and decreases quality of care.
For example the North West London STP includes plans to cut almost 8,000 NHS jobs in NW London in the next 5 years This was exposed by the NW London Save Our Hospitals campaign who used FOI to obtain papers marked "NW London Delivery Plan for the Sustainability & Transformation Plan Oct 16 Strictly confidential not for Wider Circulation". The STP paper includes the loss of 3,658 NHS jobs in NW London next year - rising to 7753 by 20/21.
The Government may hope to get away with its continued undermining, underfunding and dismantling of the NHS but people across the country – users of the NHS and staff who work in it – are joining the growing movement in defence of the NHS.
There will be a major national demonstration in defence of the NHS on 4 March where the demands are: “No cuts, closures or privatisation” “End pay restraint for NHS staff” “ For a fully funded, publicly owned and publicly accountable NHS and social care service”.
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