All week we’ve been waiting for the figures that would show just how bad the scale of the NHS financial crisis was.
The regulator, Monitor, had been ‘leaned on’ to delay publication til after the Tory Party Conference.
And no wonder. The figures that were finally released today were bad. Really bad. NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts have gone nearly a billion pounds in the red in just three months. And patients are suffering as waiting lists are soaring.
Monitor said in today’s report that Foundation Trusts ‘could not go on like this’.
Health campaigners have reacted with anger – and a very clear message about the necessary way forward, urging politicians from across the spectrum who truly care about the NHS, to back the NHS Bill. The Bill was developed with a team of campaigners led by Professor Allyson Pollock, and presented in parliament by Caroline Lucas MP in June – with backing from Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and other Labour MPs, as well as the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and Lib Dem MP John Pugh.
The NHS Bill sweeps away the complex and expensive system of ‘autonomous’ Trusts forced into a game of ‘beggar my neighbour’, competing against each other for commissions, patients and dwindling funds.
"At what stage will those who advocated ‘standalone’ Foundation Hospitals, which have dominated health policy for 13 years, admit they were wrong?” asked Lord David Owen in response to today's figures.
Owen – former health minister and leading critic of the Coalition Health & Social Care Act – told OurNHS that the way forward was clear:
“We have to return to an NHS that provides comprehensive care across each geographical area, as spelled out in the NHS Bill. This Bill is now before the House of Commons in the name of Caroline Lucas and supported by Jeremy Corbyn. The progressive alliance in Parliament now must be supported by all the Royal Colleges and anyone committed to evidence based medicine. The evidence is now before us all that Foundation Hospitals have been a disaster. The Health and Social Care Act must be changed and the NHS Bill is the way to do it.”
Caroline Lucas told OurNHS today, “Our fragmented, marketised NHS is in crisis. This latest failure highlights the urgent need for a change in direction. We need to return the NHS to its founding principles and reverse the creeping marketisation of the last 25 years. That’s why I’m calling for MPs from across the political spectrum to be part of saving our health service by supporting my NHS Reinstatement Bill.”
Deborah Harrington, spokesperson for the National Health Action Party also weighed in with support for the bill, saying:
“It took a series of legislative changes to get us where we are today, on the brink of losing a precious and vital service available to us all. We need legislation to restore it to health and end these daily reports of financial 'failure'. We need the NHS Bill tabled by Caroline Lucas.”
Harrington explained further:
“This is murder disguised as accidental death. If the public want to continue to have healthcare free of the fear of huge bills or insurance payments they need to stand up for an NHS back in public ownership and free of the threat of bankruptcy, a term which should never have been allowed to apply to our public services in the first place.”
Professor Sue Richards, Chair of Keep Our NHS Public, savaged Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, saying his government was “responsible for massive mis-spending in bringing the market into the NHS”.
Richards highlighted how restoring the government’s duty to provide comprehensive healthcare across the whole country is a key feature of the NHS Reinstatement Bill that Keep Our NHS Public supports. The duty to provide comprehensive healthcare was abolished in the 2012 Act, allowing the government to blame underfunded local hospitals for ‘local decisions’ when they make cuts or simply fail to provide quality, timely services.
Richards elaborated: “It is not just that Hunt is not up to the job. It is also that he thinks the job of Secretary of State has been abolished by the Health and Social Care Act 2012, and that he can wring his hands and blame others, without having to step up and take charge. MPs should call Hunt to account for the state of NHS finances and the deteriorating performance in patient care. Let’s reinstate the Secretary of State’s responsibility for the NHS, and sack him if he continues to fail.”
GP Charles West – co-author of a rebel Lib Dem report into the true costs of running the NHS as a ‘market’ -accused the three main political parties of a “pathetic spectacle” at the May General Election, saying they were “falling over themselves to promise small amounts of additional money to the NHS whilst simultaneously weighing it down with expensive and unnecessary bureaucracy. The pseudo-market imposed on the NHS has been reliably estimated to cost £20bn a year. Even if George Osborne comes up with the £8bn he has promised it will not solve the problem, it will simply pour more money into the hands of the private providers and management consultants who are gathering like vultures round a corpse.”
West concluded: "There is a straightforward and simple solution to the problems faced by the NHS. It lies in the National Health Service Bill tabled in July. Up till now the leaders of Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties have preferred to administer larger and larger doses of the very medicine that has done so much harm to the NHS. It will be interesting to see if recent changes of leadership will bring a new wave of common sense.”
Privately, many senior NHS campaigners express frustration that so far under the Corbyn opposition, there has been little shift in tone in Labour’s NHS message. They will be hoping for a greater confidence soon from Labour (and indeed the Lib Dems and Nationalists) in being prepared to challenge the old mistakes and Blairite market arrangements.
There are a few encouraging signs around Corbyn's willingness to talk about the Private Finance Initiatives that are costing the NHS dear. Joel Benjamin of People Vs PFI said that it was "absurd" that the "5 year plan" for the NHS made "NO mention of PFI, even though NHS trusts will pay out close to £10bn in PFI repayments over this period, and 2/3 of NHS trusts in financial stress have PFIs."
The current predicament of Trusts and Foundation Trusts was entirely predicted by those who worked on producing the NHS Reinstatement Bill – and it’s suddenly more relevant than ever. The Bill is due to be read in March 2016 – but is unlikely to get a proper hearing unless Corbyn, who signed it as a backbencher, can bring the full weight of his new leadership role into play behind it.
Winter is coming. The NHS is dreading it. Will politicians offer it some hope for the spring?