Sunday, 2 October 2016

You can't mothball lives along with hospital beds.

This week NHS commissioners announced plans to make further cuts to hospital services across the city.

Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire clinical commissioning groups (CCG) said that Bradwell Hospital would lose 64 beds. The hospital cares for frail and elderly people, many of whom may now have to go into private care homes instead.

The announcement comes hard on the heels of a decision to 'mothball' all 48 beds at Cheadle Hospital and one ward at Burslem's Heywood Hospital, the future of in-patient beds at Leek Moorlands Hospital is also uncertain.

The decision to close beds at Bradwell has been criticised by local MPs, trades unions representing hospital staff and local health campaign groups.

In a joint statement reported by the Sentinel a spokesperson for the two CCGs said that NHS England would be reviewing its plans for the beds under threat over the next few weeks and that any final decision would be 'subject to formal consultation.'

'Mothballed', 'decommissioned' (another bureaucratic favourite) carefully masks the fact that behind a decision made by a committee lie innumerable real lives. In this instance the lives of highly vulnerable people and those of their carers.

The fear expressed by health campaigners that further bed closures will lead inevitably to higher use of A&E services, piling yet more pressure onto a system that is already struggling to cope is entirely credible. What haunts me though is another, equally frightening possibility.

There is a very real risk that with services at Bradwell Hospital downgraded and, in a worst case scenario, closed at some future date vulnerable people and their carers could simply fall off the radar. Trapping them in a nightmare struggle against odds that can't be beaten without adequate support and with a very real risk of a tragic outcome.

The end result will certainly be people accessing services later when their problems are far more complex and the support they need more costly, cancelling out any earlier savings at a stroke.

The CCGs talk a good game about caring for people at home rather than in hospital for as long as possible. This is a noble aspiration and helps people to retain their independence for far longer, at least it does if home care is properly resourced; but at present it isn't.

What frail elderly people and their carers get is an all too familiar fudge, promises of jam tomorrow and a diet of bread and water today. They and their carers are forced into a miserable obstacle race after support that is never enough to make a difference even though it costs them their savings and maybe their home.

The NHS is a truly great British achievement, even more so when you consider that it was founded at a time when the country was near to bankrupt. Sadly the visionaries of 1948 have long since been replaced by political pygmies who don't understand the value of having a free at the point of use health service.

As a result we are witnessing its slow dismantling through a mixture of endless tiny cuts and managerial meddling from central government. It is telling that Jeremy Hunt prefers picking fights with the junior doctors to sorting out the shambles that passes for elderly care, if he thinks about it at all he probably dismisses the whole thing as a problem to be solved by 'market forces' or some such meaningless twaddle.

There is a very real risk that we could slip backwards to the not so good old days when good health and a long life was a luxury denied to the vast majority. A bleak future that wilfully wastes potential and puts prosperity and social stability at risk.

This is something we should fight against by opposing every bed closure, every attack on the working conditions of hospital staff and every attempt to sneak privatisation in by the back door. The NHS belongs to the people and we should do all we can to defend it.

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