The BBC has announced that draft proposals to make drastic cuts to NHS England services have been uncovered, as part of the government’s continued austerity plan. The ‘sustainability and transformation plans’ (STPs) have been drawn up in order to help find the £22bn of ‘efficiency savings’ (i.e. cuts) which are still needed to meet former Chancellor George Osborne’s targets for 2020/21. But while spokespeople are trying to remain optimistic, the BBC has reported considerable scepticism from healthcare policy experts about the proposals.
Closures and mergers
Officials have been told to draw up a list of services which are ‘not clinically and financially sustainable’ – with the aim of closing struggling units or shifting them to bigger hospitals.
Every hospital trust in England was sent a letter last month by Bob Alexander, director of resources at NHS Improvement, the health services’ financial watchdog.
It told trust bosses to identify departments which could be ‘re-provided’ by other institutions. Hospital chief executives were given a deadline of July 31 to provide details.
The BBC reports confirm some specifics of the wide-ranging ‘transformations’, giving examples from the East Midlands and Yorkshire:
In Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, there are plans to reduce the number of hospitals in the area from three to two.
There are also plans to put GP surgeries under ‘review’ because of a shortage of funding.
A draft plan circulating among NHS managers in West Yorkshire reveals proposals to close the equivalent of five wards in the Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust.
Once again, this is being called a response to an NHS at “breaking point” by health bosses and regulators. The closures hope to eventually save money and ease the strain on staff and patients in the long term, but it doesn’t factor in the immediate effect on patients, having to travel further for care.
38 Degrees is reported to have uncovered many of the proposals which have been previously unreported, including the closure of Midland Metropolitan Hospital’s A&E department. In a petition set up to protest the further austerity measures, 38 Degrees has accused Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt of a “secret plan to force changes” on the NHS.
A spokesperson for NHS England maintained positivity about the cuts, insisting:
This is a unique exercise in collaboration.
It is hardly a secret that the NHS is looking to make major efficiencies and the best way of doing so is for local doctors, hospitals and councils to work together to decide the way forward in consultation with local communities.
Proposals are at a draft stage but we expect all local leaders to be talking to the public and stakeholders regularly – it is vital that people are able to shape the future of their local services.
No changes to the services people currently receive will be made without local engagement and, where required, consultation. There are longstanding assurance processes in place to make sure this happens.
The Nottingham STP leader David Pearson was equally optimistic, claiming:
The transformation of services is rarely just one big dramatic closure.
It’s thousands of people working with citizens to deliver the best possible outcomes, and that’s what this is about.
On the brink
Our research finds that, in a lot of these kinds of reconfigurations, you don’t save very much money – all that happens is the patient has to go to the next hospital down the road.
They’re more inconvenienced, they have to travel further, but it rarely saves the money that’s needed.
If previous austerity measures are anything to go by, there is no reason to buy health representatives’ optimism. The NHS remains in a ‘black hole’ after Conservative rhetoric about ‘saving’ it, and reports suggest it is getting worse. The Daily Mail reported in its take on the STPs story that healthcare chiefs reported a deficit of £461m in the first quarter of 2016.
But Left Foot Forward, also going on research presented by Sally Gainsbury of the Nuffield Trust, says that £461m is actually closer to the amount they underestimated the deficit by. In May 2016, the full deficit – without “accountancy measures that improve the surface picture” – is likely closer to £3 billion.
– Sign 38 Degrees petition to get Jeremy Hunt to reveal all the STPs.
– Support the Save Our NHS campaign, and other NHS campaigns.
Featured image via Pete/Flickr
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?