Low staffing levels threaten NHS care
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has reported that 17 NHS hospitals are failing to operate within safe staffing levels. This is yet more clear evidence of the failure of the major political parties in the stewarding of the NHS.
The problems with NHS staffing are longstanding and started in the Thatcher era, when the NHS budget was severely squeezed for many years. This problem was addressed when the previous Labour Government significantly increased NHS funding to match EU average spending. However, all the good work was undone, when the Labour Government brought in their damaging £20 billion “efficiency savings” plans in 2009 (“the Nicholson Challenge”), which are now financially crippling many NHS Foundation Trusts up and down the country. Since 65% of the NHS budget is spent on staffing, it is inevitable that these unprecedented levels of “efficiency savings” would result in staff cuts. Moreover, it is not just the problem of cuts in the absolute numbers of staff; it is equally about the cuts in the levels of the most qualified staff. To save money, more expensive staff are being replaced by cheaper, less qualified staff. This will clearly have implications for the quality of care that can be delivered and this was a key factor in the Mid Staffordshire care scandal.
This situation is now being made even worse by the current Government, which has undemocratically inflicted another multi-billion pound top-down reorganisation of the NHS. Professor Patrick Dunleavey from the LSE has estimated that the Coalition reforms will cost upward of £4 billion and he went on to label them as “Policy Fiasco”. This money could have been spent on frontline care. In addition the reforms will introduce more competition and choice into the NHS with much more private sector provision. This requires excess capacity in the service, which not only wastes resources, but will also take NHS staff out of NHS hospitals and into the private sector to duplicate services. This is clearly an inefficient use of money and will have further detrimental effects on NHS staffing levels. The private sector is also notorious for cutting staffing levels and employing less qualified staff on lower wages, to maximise profits for shareholders.
These problems are compounded into a perfect storm by the real terms cuts in NHS spending as reported by the UK Statistics Authority, despite Government claims to the contrary. Worse still, the Treasury has clawed back an additional £3billion from the NHS budget over the last 2 years. In addition, the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) continues to siphon off billions of pounds out of the NHS and into the pockets of banks and their shareholders. Things are therefore only going to get worse for the NHS, and it clearly not safe in David Cameron’s hands - scandals in healthcare care like Mid Staffs are going to be more likely, not less likely
In summary, it is clear that all 3 main political parties are failing the NHS. This emphasises the urgent need for a political party such as the National Health Action party to highlight these problems to the public and campaign for the NHS to remain a cost effective publicly provided service with much better mechanisms of accountability built into the system.