Our health correspondent, ALAN FINLAY, on the latest cuts by stealth being implements in the NHS in Croydon, and across the country
Croydon NHS is saving £20million a year through what they call “demand management”. To most reasonable people, it might be better understood by calling it denying patients the treatment they need.
The financial saving was detailed by Croydon Clinical Commission Group officials Stephen Warren (the CCG’s director of commissioning) and Andrew Eyres at a scrutiny committee meeting of councillors held at the Town Hall before Christmas, and is likely a signal of even deeper cuts yet to be made, after government ministers, on the last day of the parliamentary session last week, “sneaked out” another bundle of cuts to public health services, reckoned to be more than £85million nationally.
The slashing of grants for councils will affect prevention services including “stop smoking” clinics, schemes to tackle obesity, and drug and alcohol misuse services for children and young people.
The grants are being cut by nearly £2 per person to £3.134billion – a 3.3 per cent fall – in just one year, the Tory health minister Steve Brine confirmed last week. Of those cuts, more than £18million will be taken from NHS budgets in London alone.
The announcement came among 12 written ministerial statements published by the Government on the last day of the parliamentary term, when most MPs had already returned to their constituencies.
Labour’s shadow health and social care spokesperson Jon Ashworth said: “It’s outrageous the Government have tried to sneak out further devastating cuts to local specialist public health services without debate on the day Parliament rises for the Christmas break.
“It’s the clearest evidence yet that ministerial promises on the NHS are entirely hollow.”
Ashworth said: “At some point the Government will publish the NHS plan. A clear test of that plan is whether it reverses these cuts and fully funds community public health services as Labour has promised.”
The Health Foundation charity said the latest cuts would “heap more pressure” on councils that are already struggling with “significant budget cuts”.
David Finch, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, said: “Increasing spending for the NHS while cutting funding for services that impact health is a false economy.
“Rather than implementing further cuts, we calculate an additional £3billion a year is required to reverse the impact of government cuts to the public health grant and ensure that it is re-allocated according to need.”
That lack of adequate funding for NHS services in Croydon was discussed at the health scrutiny committee meeting this month, where Labour’s Waddon councillor Andrew Pelling raised concerns about denial of treatment, and the refusal to provide prescriptions to those entitled to free prescriptions under new guidance from the local CCG.
Pelling raised the risks that discouraging people from using the NHS could leave more serious illnesses undiagnosed, while those who cannot afford medicines without free prescriptions could be left untreated.
Warren is the NHS administrator who implemented a previous round of cuts to local health services, including the closure of the life-saving Foxley Lane women’s mental health refuge.
Warren told the council committee that under what he called “demand management” that at the borough’s accident and emergency departments, at Mayday and Purley hospitals, attendances by those seeking treatment were now “stabilising”. He hoped that the number of people attending the A&E departments would fall.
Eyres had a stark message for the future of health services in Croydon. He said that, “If we did nothing, as the population goes up and the population gets older, we will not have the staff to sustain the NHS.”
Eyres tried to reassure councillors by saying that whatever the guidance from the CCG to GPs to discourage them from providing free prescriptions on a long list of ailments, that “no one can overrule clinical freedom” to issue such prescriptions.
Eyres also emphasised win-win gains through prevention work in the NHS. This, though, came before the government’s announcement of millions of pounds of further in cuts to public health.
The contradictory positions of government cuts to prevention services and the local CCG withdrawing prescriptions for existing conditions was demonstrated when the council’s director of public health, Rachel Flowers, used the meeting to encourage councillors to urged the public “to get your flu jab now”.
Flowers said: “There were a lot of myths and rumours about the jab, but it protects you from a condition that could kill you.”
One thing the flu jab can’t protect people from, though, are Tory cuts to the NHS, as the Conservatives continue to seek to privatise health services.
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