The big news over the weekend was the Sunday Telegraph’s investigation into frontline NHS service cuts.
The newspaper found that, far from the public eye, hospitals and primary care trusts across the country are planning to reduce services to save money as the NHS’ £20bn in ‘efficiency savings’ begin to bite.
Among the cuts reported by the paper:
- Restrictions on some of the most basic and common operations, including hip and knee replacements, cataract surgery and orthodontic procedures.
- Plans to cut hundreds of thousands of pounds from budgets for the terminally ill, with dying cancer patients to be told to manage their own symptoms if their condition worsens at evenings or weekends.
- The closure of nursing homes for the elderly.
- A reduction in acute hospital beds, including those for the mentally ill, with targets to discourage GPs from sending patients to hospitals and reduce the number of people using accident and emergency departments.
This, of course, from the same Conservatives who promised to protect the NHS budget and to avoid cuts to frontline services.
Not that Labour was much better. While the Telegraph ran an essentially anti-Tory investigation, the Guardian reported Health Secretary Andrew Lansley revealing the truth about failures in Labour’s health policy.
One of the hallmarks of New Labour was its creeping backdoor privatisation driven of the NHS. A key initiative was the commissioning of privately-run ‘independent sector treatment centres’ (ISTCs) to carry out certain procedures, often in an attempt to meet hospital waiting time targets.
However, very often these private sector operators were paid vast sums of money for operations that were never carried out – and this weekend Lansley said that up to £300m was wasted paying for operations that were either cheaper to conduct within the NHS, or were never carried out at all.
Not that the coalition government has been thrown off its policy of ‘denationalising’ the NHS – Lansley simply said that under the new government, the private sector will have to compete on a level playing field.
But as Paul Evans, director of campaign group the NHS Support Federation, told the Guardian, the ISTCs revelations reveal the “murky world of a market-led health service, where deals can be made between companies using public money and we don’t see the contracts until the money has already been spent.”
The Sunday Times reported that government cuts to road safety budgets could lead to local authorities scrapping their entire speed camera networks, after Oxfordshire County Council moved last week to pull funding. Other councils are expected to follow – although suggestions that the entire national network is under threat are fanciful. Swindon scrapped speed cameras last year; the council claims there has been no increase in road accidents since then.
And finally, there’s a good chance you’ve already seen news of the massive leak of US data on the war in Afghanistan, secured by Wikileaks and published by (among others) the Guardian.
Suffice to say, in these times of austerity – remember how much this war costs.
A Thousand Cuts on Friday: