Our Friday surgery is back after a short summer break, but Dr Walker is not in satirical mood this week.
Hitting back at STP: an SOS call to all NHA members around the country
Watching the battle lines emerging in the press reporting of the new mass cuts regime currently being implemented across the NHS is pretty instructive. On one side you have the government and their appointed spokespeople, scrambling to assuage a newly anxious population with the soothing language of consolidation, reconfiguration, efficiency, and modernisation. They are, of course, gambling on being able to sustain public obliviousness to the fact that these words are synonyms for service cuts, lost beds and staff lay-offs. On the other side, a variety of campaigning groups, doctors and politicians using an array of evidence to carefully unpack these reconfiguration fantasies.
The sheer scale and imminence of cuts is, even for seasoned austerity-spotters, truly shocking to behold. What is interesting now is the extent to which those who are pushing for, and making possible, these cuts have critically departed from reality. We hear that in Dorset, the new STP plan suggests that a 'reduction in the number of sites' would lead to a better provision of services 'for more hours of the day and days of the week'.
In Hampshire and Isle of Wight, commissioners are planning to make general practice more sustainable by cutting GP workload by almost a third, while also significantly reducing patients' face-to-face contact with primary care.
Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation said, “These local plans are being made when funding is very tight but they are not about cuts, they are about modernising services to match people’s changing care needs.” I suppose if people’s changing care needs included a need to die of entirely preventable illnesses then he would be right. But it is not.
No amount of PR window dressing and STP gobbledegook will ever convince anyone that removing beds, services, A&E units and GP surgeries is going to lead to better patient care. Indeed the way in which STP plans are wrapping the extraordinary shrinking of our NHS in the language of better patient care has now stretched incredulity to a truly insulting level.
Thus far, those who resist these cuts publicly have made salient points about poor public consultation and lack of democratic accountability, about GPs being excluded from the STP planning process, about how the delivery of integrated care is incompatible with mass service reduction and how poor community provision means it is impossible to transfer acute services to the community.
Huge numbers of people unable to see their GP means a massive increase in patient risk. People are going to die as a result.
For example, when Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland region, reduce the number of acute hospitals from three to two people are going to die as a result of this. Or when in the Black Country region of the West Midlands the number of acute units are cut from five to four and when one of two district general hospitals closes people are going to die. You'll find the same wherever you live.
The STPs are going to kill people.
Dalton is selling this as modernisation and improvement: it is not, it is the end of the NHS as a comprehensive, universal and accessible service. Most people out there have not been seduced or befuddled by the corporatisation of health discourse that has been designed to obscure mass public service vandalism. When NHS England, the Department of Health, The NHS Confederation and the poor sods charged with spinning STP straw into gold defend against accusation of cuts with their consolidating reconfigurations they remind me of playing hide and seek with my young son who thinks I can’t see him because he’s covered his hands with his eyes. The health mandarins can cover their eyes if they wish but we can still see them.
So where and how do we hit back and resist against this institutional policy barbarity? I have no doubt that many NHA members out there are already actively campaigning against STP but if not and you want to get involved then here are eight ways to campaign
1. sign this national petition again and again and again (share it again that is, only sign it once)
2. spread this fantastic blog far and wide letting people know the real figures behind this sorry mess
3. join a local NHS campaigning group, whether that be NHA, 999 Call for the NHS, Keep Our NHS Public or other. If one doesn’t exist in your area then get one moving with a few friends.
4. use the recent articles in the national press to push for local public consultations and work with friends and colleagues to drum up support to go to these
5. hold local public meetings once the detailed STP plans have been released in your area and the plans for A&E closures and GP closures are announced. Use these public events to inform people and as a base to develop further campaigning
6. it’s a thankless task sometimes but lobby local councillors to stand up in your interests. Let local newspapers know which of them are prepared to stand with the public interest against the STP cuts in their area
7. use the recent articles in the national press to push for local newspaper health editors to report on STP developments and to attend consultation events
8. start a local petition against the closures and coordinate with other groups across your STP area.
These are just a few ideas, there are of course many more. But if ever people were thinking of getting more actively involved in the fight to save the NHS then this is the time.
NHA's 'Friday Surgery' is a sometimes satirical blog written by Dr Carl Walker who is a member of the party's executive committee.