From The News Line:
THE government yesterday sought to head off an eruption of demonstrations and occupations against the closure of wards, A&Es, and maternity, children’s and geriatric NHS units this summer.
It published health minister Lord Darzi’s ‘five pledges’ that ‘change will always be to the benefit of patients’; that ‘Change will be clinically driven’; that ‘All change will be locally-led’; that ‘You will be involved’, and ‘You will see the difference first. Existing services will not be withdrawn until new and better services are available to patients so they can see the difference.’
But despite Darzi’s pledges in his interim report, ‘Leading Local Change’, health unions and leaders of the battle to keep district general hospitals open remain in opposition to mass closures.
Bill Rogers, secretary of the North East London Council of Action, said: ‘The North East London Council of Action is opposed to these proposals, which mean that scores of vital hospital departments like cancer clinics and maternity departments will be closed or merged throughout the country.
‘The so-called specialist centres would involve journeys of 60 miles for patients who are ill, disabled and frail.
‘Darzi says care could be moved from hospitals into health centres, GP clinics and cottage hospitals, close to the patient’s home – this really means polyclinics.
‘Our Council of Action must step up its campaign against these cuts and closures.
‘We demand that the unions stand and fight the cuts and closures being proposed by Darzi.’
He added: ‘We led a march of 3,000 through Enfield to defend Chase Farm Hospital. This campaign will have to be developed into strike action and an occupation of Chase Farm to stop it closing.
British Medical Association (BMA) Chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum says: ‘Of course it’s right that changes should always be to the benefit of patients, that they should be evidence-based, and that local populations should have a meaningful say over their NHS services.
‘The problem is that the public and healthcare staff alike have yet to see much evidence of these principles being delivered up to now.
‘As part of the initial Darzi review, it appears that every Primary Care Trust will have to meet a centrally imposed requirement to have a new “supersurgery”.
‘This is despite a lack of sound evidence to show that they all need one, or that proper local consultation is always taking place.’
Karen Jennings, Head of Health at UNISON, the UK’s largest public sector union, said: ‘UNISON’s fear is that, even with the five pledges, change will herald the increased use of private companies in the NHS.
‘When the final report is published we want an NHS that is fit for the next 10 years, not one that would be split by the private sector ethos of competition and profit.’
Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive & General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, warned: ‘Whilst it is right to tailor local services to the needs of local communities, the public rightly expect the NHS to provide free access to healthcare, regardless of location.
‘The government need to ensure that “locally-led” doesn’t mean “postcode lottery”.’
• The GMB has recommended its NHS members reject the 2008 pay offer in a ballot for strike action.
It is holding a consultative ballot of its thousands of members who work in the NHS and Ambulance Service on the government three-year pay deal. The ballot commenced yesterday and will end on Thursday 29 May 2008.