Socialist Alternative

Profits and public health: Fighting for our NHS in the era of Covid

In the midst of the Covid pandemic, University Hospitals of Leicester (UHL) NHS Trust has quietly initiated a consultation regarding the future of the city’s hospitals: Leicester Royal Infirmary, the Glenfield Hospital and the General Hospital. The impact of its plans, however, reaches far beyond just these three hospitals. 

Leicester Socialist Alternative members are involved in helping lead a broad campaign called Save Our NHS Leicestershire which has been extremely busy fighting for radical improvements. We are fighting for the survival of services at the General Hospital and for adequate capacity to be built into the local plan. St Mary’s Birthing Centre in Melton Mowbray is proposed to close, with all maternity services centralised to the already very congested site at the Royal – something we regard as potentially dangerous. 

All this is taking place in the middle of the Covid pandemic with severe restrictions on public activity. The consultation started on 28 September and closes on 21 December, yet we have spoken to many Leicester residents over the past weeks and months who aren’t even aware of the plans. Is this any wonder given the lockdown restrictions which have been barely lifted in Leicester since March?

The Clinical Commissioning Group has repeatedly claimed that the General will not be closing – most recently in an article which grabbed the front page of the local paper, the Leicester Mercury, where they stated: “The General Hospital would not close, but would be retained as a community health campus including some non-acute beds.” However, the only UHL services remaining on the site will be a Diabetes Centre, an imaging hub (CT scans etc.) for GP referrals, possibly an administrative block, and possibly (subject to consultation and for a trial period) a midwife-led unit. Do these four services (compared to the 87 currently at the site) make up a hospital? We think not!

While the Trust’s proposed funding of £450 million is certainly welcome, it must be recognised that the human cost in the long run will be much higher. What we gain in intensive care beds, we lose in generic ward beds (especially when compared with population growth). Services are already stretched to the limit, due to severe underfunding and understaffing over the last ten years.  

But our fight isn’t just about hospitals. As socialists, we must now more than ever be heard, by fighting to defend and improve our NHS, along with care services. Over the last decade in particular, signs of privatisation have become more and more evident. The list of items/medication no longer provided on prescription is getting longer every year. Outsourcing of various services are now the norm, but are financially a disaster. 

Hospital trusts are forced, under the threat of punitive measures, to opt for “quick fixes” to reduce waiting lists, for instance by passing outpatients to private hospitals. My husband and mother in law, for example, have both been treated in the private Woodland Hospital in Northamptonshire. They were referred to Woodland by the local NHS. After checking their pricelist, I see why I would park next to my husband’s surgeon’s Ferrari. 

Looking at Boris Johnson’s ‘forty new hospital’ claims, it’s evident that he has only tried ever so slightly  to fulfil his election promise. The majority of money and new builds will go to the more affluent areas, while the ‘Red Wall’ areas will have to do with the crumbs of ‘modernisation’. This could just entail a new lick of paint; colour chosen by an expensive ‘colour consultant’. Still, £450 million investment in Leicester’s hospitals is a very significant amount and it is not likely Leicester will see similar investment for decades. This is why it is so important that the plan is actually carried through.

For the past decade, the dismantling of the NHS has been quietly played out, mostly hidden from public view, with contracts given out by trusts to friends of senior management and Tory party donors. This has now, during the Covid crisis, been thrown into the spotlight with contracts being handed out without even the pretence of tendering. We now see on an almost daily basis the unethical dealings of this government. 

Typically, the capitalist media which tries to dominate the discussion is keeping quiet, as they’re owned by the vested interests who will, via shares and/or hedge funds, benefit from privatisation. One thing is for sure, the elite are now acting out Britain’s most devastating play in public. I suppose it could be called ‘divide the assets between us’. To save and renew our NHS, we need to fight to build a socialist alternative now. Otherwise we will see the final curtain fall on a public health service that was once envied all over the world.

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