|We're giving £2.50 to the Save Lewisham Hospital legal fund for each mug sold|
The NHS, as a public service free at the point of use, is under threat. Regulations introduced in March to supplement the 2012 Health and Social Care Act commit the newly established clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to put virtually all local health services out to competitive tender. Widespread public pressure and criticism from across the medical profession forced Jeremy Hunt (always have to be careful how I spell his surname) to make last-minute revisions to the regulations.
But they’ve not exactly improved things: for example, Regulation 5 now says CCGs can procure services from an existing provider without competitive bids only where they’re "satisfied that the services…are capable of being provided only by that provider". But if a private provider thinks it can provide that service, it can challenge the CCG decision in the courts.
A recent Tory policy paper suggested there should be an annual limit to the number of visits paid for by the NHS anyone can make in a year: beyond the ration, patients would have to pay. Hunt was forced to declare that this was not, nor ever would be, part of Tory policy. However, the idea is thought to be the brainchild of party chairman Grant ‘Alias’ Shapps, and Oliver Letwin, responsible for party policy. Letwin it was who (reportedly) told a private meeting in 2004 that ‘…the NHS will not exist within five years’ of a Tory election victory.
Whatever, there are other more recent and tangible signs of government plans. That well known standard-bearer of socialism, the Daily Telegraph, reported late last year that ‘more patients are going private because the NHS is increasingly cutting back on providing a range of treatments.’ It quoted Dr Clare Gerada, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, as saying it was “incontrovertible” that increased NHS rationing was behind the increase in going private, a trend she described as “very sad”.
But services don’t have to be threatened with privatisation to be at risk. Medical opinion suggests that A&E services are unlikely to be attractive to private providers, as they’re too expensive – which is why they are being cut, all over the country. One of the first to hit the headlines, largely because of a vigorous local campaign, was Lewisham A&E, which SIC reported on earlier ( At risk: an A&E near you). Despite some local issues fundamentally the problem there is the same as that facing the other A&E services under threat: restrictions in funding leading to reduced numbers of emergency units, and – this is key – Hunt trying to act beyond his legal powers.
The Save Lewisham hospital campaign has secured a judicial review, scheduled for July. The case essentially is that Hunt’s decision to substantially cut services at the hospital is unlawful: according to the campaign lawyer, ‘The consultation process… was flawed, the four tests Mr Hunt confirmed would have to be satisfied before any reconfiguration proposals could proceed have not been met, and the Secretary of State has misunderstood his own legal powers.’ (See Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign legal challenge).
A favourable decision in the courts would be great for Lewisham; but it could also help all the other local groups fighting similar battles – which is why we’re donating £2.50 for each of our Humpty Dumpty mugs sold to the campaign legal fund.