Our health correspondent, JAMES KILLDARE, on the shocking findings of a report from The King’s Fund, as the Tory dismantling of the NHS gathers pace
NHS England has secret plans to close one of five hospitals in south-west London, including Croydon’s Mayday and St George’s in Tooting, two of the hospitals which last week dealt with the casualties in the tram crash emergency, whose work probably avoided the death toll being any higher.
A report published today by the King’s Fund, a leading charity that focuses on health policy, disclosed that NHS managers had been told to keep closure proposals secret, as the Tory Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, looks to make a further £22billion-worth of cuts across 44 areas of England.
According to the King’s Fund, NHS England has told local managers to keep the plans “out of the public domain” and avoid requests for information. Managers were even told how to reject freedom of information requests.
The King’s Fund report did not include any details of cuts, but from the leaks and plans that have been published so far, they have spilled the beans on proposals for this part of London, where five large hospitals – St George’s, Kingston, Croydon, St Helier or Epsom – seem likely to be reduced to four.
The King’s Fund report again raises the real threat of the closure of St Helier Hospital, seen as being the most vulnerable among those in the area. With rapidly growing population across this part of London, any large-scale removal of services is likely to place already stretched hospital staff under even greater pressure.
The cuts are all part of Hunt’s latest jargon-laden buzz-phrase programme, Sustainability and Transformation plans, or STPs.
The King’s Fund report has found that the scale of the required overhaul and the limited time to find savings has resulted in changes being proposed with little or no public consultation.
The King’s Fund was told by several NHS managers that they had been asked to draw up plans and to keep them “out of the public domain”.
Other findings of the King’s Fund researchers and the campaign group, 38 Degrees, suggest that NHS managers are considering closures of accident and emergency departments, changes to maternity care and cuts in hospital beds.
NHS managers also complained that there has not been enough time to work out how to implement proposals. “Monday we’re told we’re straight, on Wednesday it’s turn right, Friday it’s do a U-turn,” one manager told the King’s Fund.
The Financial Times reports today: “The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee says health experts have claimed that the health service faces a £30billion annual shortfall by 2020-2021 as growing demand for care races ahead of the flat real-terms funding increases proposed by the government.”
Dr Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons health committee, has said that her own government’s claims that it has given the NHS an extra £10billion in cash up until 2020-2021 “is not only incorrect but gives the false impression that the NHS is awash with cash”.
Hunt says that he has provided an extra £1.8 billion this year alone to help NHS Trusts. But this money was only provided to implement cuts to services. In fact, so far most of that money has been taken up by hospitals meeting patient demand, which is estimated to be growing by up to 4 per cent a year.
In Croydon, the NHS trust which manages Mayday – or Croydon University Hospital, as a few people call it – has been put on “special measures” because of its problems in making financial ends meet. Additional financial cuts have been demanded of the hospital trust and of the local clinical commissioning group, which manages GP practices, in addtion to other “savings”.
With the secrets over the STP cuts having been blown, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director, has now asked that all STPs are published over the next few weeks.
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