Mark Blackwood 31/10/12

Latest reports indicate that the total number of Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments facing the axe nationally has risen to 32.

As well as closures already announced in London, Manchester and Lancashire, Frenchay hospital in Bristol have just announced the closure of A&Es and in Maidstone, Kent, emergency cases are now being sent on a 14 mile half hour journey to Tunbridge Wells. A similar fate awaits the major trauma cases in Cheltenham, which will have to be taken to Bristol or Gloucester.

In East Sussex either Eastbourne General Hospital or Hastings Conquest Hospital in Hastings will be closed, meaning an additional 21 miles along mainly minor roads for treatment.

On 26 October the Royal Bolton Hospital announced its intention to axe some 300 National Health Service posts. The announcement coincided with decision to slash around 500 jobs at Norfolk and Suffolk’s mental health trust. On the same day NHS chiefs in Herefordshire declared their intent to hack some £276 million from their health budget over the next four years.

Rotherham NHS Trust has publicised its plans to eliminate 20 percent of its workforce by 2015. The BBC reported the trust saying it needed a “smaller hospital, with substantially fewer beds” and a smaller workforce in order to save £50 million from its £220 million budget over the next four years. Around 750 jobs are threatened. The Trust is currently talking of not replacing the 250 staff who leave each year, but has also said that “compulsory redundancies are inevitable”.

Last month North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust issued an advanced notice of redundancy to its entire workforce of 5,500 staff. Health Chiefs at the Trust are seeking to intimidate the workforce into signing new contracts aimed at removing sick pay enhancements from all existing employees’ current conditions. The redundancy notice has stipulated that anyone who resists the move and fails to sign the new contract will be sacked and re-employed on inferior terms and conditions.

On October 27, Chris Harrison, director of human resources at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, announced, “Trusts may be forced to explore some ‘flexibilities’ within the national conditions at a local level.”

Speaking to the Teesside Gazette, Harrison explained that this would have to be applied elsewhere. “We are aware of the approach being taken by North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust and the consultation they have commenced on the proposed variations to terms and conditions for their staff,” he said, adding that “in the absence of any national outcome trusts may need to explore some of these flexibilities locally as North Tees is doing.”

South Tees NHS Trust is now in the process of seeking to replicate the same attacks on NHS workers terms and conditions as those initiated by North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust. Harrison concluded his interview with a comment that the Trust was “committed to working in partnership with staff, local trade unions and professional organisations on such matters and will continue to do so.” A total of 9,000 NHS workers employed by the trust are expected to be affected once the attacks are introduced.

Attacks on NHS workers are set to intensify further. The new NHS Commissioning Board, created as a result of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 to oversee the running of the NHS from April next year, has outlined a plan to close more than half of the 28 cancer and 28 combined heart and stroke networks throughout the NHS. Over 600 NHS acute care specialists specialising in the treatment of cancer and strokes face possible redundancy. Under the plans 32 of the existing 56 specialist networks will be scrapped, leaving only 24 remaining within the NHS. According to a report published by the Guardian, the remaining networks will have “fewer staff and smaller budgets than the existing groupings of experts.”

Health chiefs at South Tyneside and the Queen Elisabeth Hospital Gateshead are currently in the process of seeking to slash out-of-hours emergency procedures. The move could see surgical provision halted between 9pm and 8am, forcing those with serious injury to travel to Newcastle or Sunderland for vital treatment.

The A&E unit at Trafford General Hospital in Greater Manchester, the birthplace of the NHS, is faced with closure, the loss of its Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and the ending of children’s services and acute surgery. Local health bosses formally announced the plan in July, and a final decision is expected later this year following a consultation process that ends 31 October. The measures would take effect early next year. Vital A&E wards are set to shut in Ealing, Charing Cross, Hammersmith as well as central Middlesex. The combined annual admissions to Charing Cross and Hammersmith hospitals are estimated to be in the region of 100,000 a year, with 20,000 of those being emergency admissions.

A decision to close three paediatric heart hospital units was made in early July, following an NHS “Safe and Sustainable” review. The heart units set to close are at the Royal Brompton in Chelsea, west London, Leeds General Infirmary, and Glenfield Hospital in Leicester.

The Royal Brompton is the largest specialist heart and lung centre in the UK and one of the largest in Europe, performing more than 400 surgeries a year. Leeds General Infirmary serves 5.5 million residents in West Yorkshire and Humberside and has three surgeons performing 360 operations a year. Glenfield Hospital conducts nearly 250 child heart surgeries and provides services for more than 5 million people in eastern England.

Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust is expected to make £99 million in savings by 2018. The Trust has already closed one of the six specialised heart wards at Castle Hill Hospital in Cottingham East Yorkshire.

This orgy of cuts presided over by Westminster has recently led to Glasgow’s Royal NHS Hospital for Sick Children closing their children’s play room on the Schiehallion Ward.  The Daily Express reported that the ward has been without a children’s play specialist since health chiefs began to “rationalise” the service. The children on the ward all suffer from a variety of cancers and blood or bone-marrow illnesses. Now, rather than being able to play freely together in the play room, the children are forced to make an appointment with a staff member in order to be able to take a toy from a locked cupboard.

The NHS and other vital services are being destroyed at the behest of big business and the banks. Back in 2008 the UK government freely and without question gave some £955 billion of British taxpayers’ money to the financial elite in order to save itself from ruin. Not satisfied with this £955 billion, a further £375 billion has been devoured thanks to The Bank of England’s program of quantitative easing (QE). This figure is likely to be raised by a further £50 billion in November. However, we must be careful not to forget the £140 billion given to the banks in July as part of George Osborne’s “emergency scheme” to save them from collapsing.

Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King reported on 25 October that “UK banks have ‘insufficient capital’ to protect against undeclared losses on their books.” British banks may well be seeking a further bailout from the taxpayer in the coming months.