Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Doctor, just give me the bad news

My friend’s knee was so painfully swollen she could barely walk. “I might just sit in A&E and see if they’ll treat me,” she told me.

Her General Practitioner had just said she might have to wait up to 18 weeks just to see a specialist. “I’m not even allowed to recommend that you have a scan,” said the GP. “Each scan costs the National Health Service £400 so they don’t allow doctors like me to make that decision for our patients.”

The frustrated doctor explained that the emasculation of GPs is just another way that the NHS is being “deliberately rundown” in London. “Soon, the NHS will only be for emergencies,” the doctor said. “It’s being rundown so people will be forced to take out private health insurance.”

The doctor’s bleak outlook is strongly echoed in London’s NHS On The Brink, a report launched today (20 January) by the London Regional Council of the British Medical Association. Health expert and report author John Lister warns record numbers of beds will be cut and hospitals closed if a new government squeezes NHS spending.

In this part of London, - Enfield -  NHS hospitals have struggled for years whilst the Nuffield, Kings Oak and Priory private hospitals have enjoyed sustained growth. Highlands Hospital used to boast its own A&E and other specialist services but the hospital has long since gone, replaced by a bleak, shoddy housing development with a ubiquitous Sainsbury. Grovelands, a temporary hospital for wounded British soldiers, is now a private clinic that sheltered the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as he hid from justice in 1998.

But the biggest stink has come from the decision to downgrade the 24/7 A&E service at Chase Farm Hospital along with children and maternity services. Despite concerted protest from local people, including two councillors elected to Enfield Council on a Save Chase Farm ticket, the downgrade goes on.

Lister’s BMA report says Private Finance Initiative projects, like the new Queen’s Hospital in Romford, will throttle London’s health budgets for the next two decades. Building Queen’s Hospital cost £238 million but Barking Havering and Redbridge Trust will have forked out £2.28 billion by the time the PFI contract ends in 2042. Worse still, this isn’t the most expensive of the twenty NHS PFI’s across London.

The BMA concludes London’s healthcare is heading towards a “major financial crisis” and planned cuts and closures are the result of  “secret discussions, plans and briefings that have been organized by NHS London”.  

NHS London say their decisions are “clinically led” and taken with “full consultation with local people”. An NHS spokesman responded to the BMA’s report: “To give people leading expert care we also need to centralise some services.”

Nevertheless, London’s NHS On The Brink contains a dire warning so I’ll be taking a closer look at the report's implications in future postings.

Paul Coleman, London, January 2010.

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