Mary Burnett, a campaigner with Waltham Forest Save Our NHS, comments on plans to reduce GP numbers
As local health campaigners from Waltham Forest Save Our NHS, we were alarmed to discover that Barts Health NHS Trust was recently put into ‘financial special measures’ by NHS England.
The trust, which runs Whipps Cross University Hospital in Leytonstone, holds the biggest deficit in NHS history thanks in part because it’s saddled with the country’s largest Private Finance Initiative (PFI) debt.
We fear that decisions made by external officials, with power to instruct Barts on how to cut its budget, could damage Whipps Cross and its ability to care for patients. A few years ago cuts to staff salaries at Whipps Cross resulted in experienced nurses leaving and preceded a report in early 2015 from the Care Quality Commission that rated the hospital ‘inadequate’.
Staff at Whipps Cross have since worked hard to improve patient care – with acknowledged success. Yet now, the trust is being penalised because managers cannot cut the deficit as fast as the government demands.
This year health organisations across England have been told to submit ‘sustainability and transformation plans’ to cut spending. As part of this process a plan for Waltham Forest, Newham and Tower Hamlets called ‘Transforming Services Together’ has been written by local health bosses.
According to the plan, the population across these three boroughs is due to increase by 270,000 over 15 years, which would normally require there to be, in ten years, 550 extra hospital beds and 195 more General Practitioners (GPs).
But extra beds and more GPs are not in the plan. Despite hospitals and surgeries being stretched, a major reorganisation is planned to cut hospital admissions. The plan depends on patients getting more care in the community, despite massive cuts to social services budgets. GP practices will be reorganised into ‘hubs’ providing care to more patients. But there will be fewer GPs; across the boroughs it’s planned to cut their numbers from 600 to 400 over ten years, with no real increase in staff at the ‘hubs’. Cheaper and easier to train physician associates, plus more nurses, pharmacists and community care staff, will be employed.
Waltham Forest Save Our NHS is campaigning against the plans because they are unworkable and unsafe. But the crisis is no accident; GPs have been underfunded for years and the NHS overall has been underfunded since 2010. The ‘sustainability’ plans regional health providers are forced to draw up is a clever way of pushing responsibility for cuts to a local level.
Whatever politicians say, our NHS is starved of funds and more profitable parts are being privatised. On its website, Virgin Care claims to run over 250 NHS services. It’s a chilling time indeed for local health services – unless we demand the funding that could, and should, be found.
To find out more about plans for local health services:
To read Bart Health NHS Trust’s recent statement on its finances:
Waltham Forest Save Our NHS is meeting at 7.30pm on Monday 3rd October, at Ye Olde Rose and Crown, Hoe Street, Walthamstow E17 4SA.