Welsh NHS Under Attack
5th December 2012
From the Socialist newspaper: Mass action needed to save our health service!
Claire Job, Nurse and Socialist Party member
In England, NHS users face the relentless drive to privatise so that ruthless private bosses can make a fortune with no regard for the service they are supposed to provide. While Welsh politicians are quick to point out these attacks on the English NHS, they remain silent about the fact that years of underfunding and now deep, deep cuts are undermining the founding principles of the NHS in Wales every bit as surely.
The Welsh government has major plans to reshape the NHS in Wales. By 2014/15 spending per head of the population on health in Wales will be lower than in any other part of Britain.
The seven health boards in Wales are drawing up individual plans and five have got together to produce a 'South Wales Plan' that will cut the number of hospital beds, reduce the number of A&E units and specialise services in fewer hospitals. This will mean increased travel time and reduced accessibility for the people who depend on these services most.
The health boards are currently in an 'engagement' process - they have published 'options' and will finalise their plans in January 2013 and enter a consultation period.
The Welsh health boards have to find nearly £300 million of 'savings' - around 5% of their combined budgets. This is on top of similar savings already identified in the previous year and the £1 billion estimated to have been cut from health budgets since 2005.
What the cuts will mean
These cuts have led to shortages of doctors and other staff, jeopardised the quality and safety of healthcare and threaten the sustainability of services Welsh people depend on.
The South Wales Plan will end the concept of the general hospital as we know it and result in only four or possibly five centres providing what many of us would consider essential services - A&E, maternity, paediatrics - across the whole of South Wales.
It has been confirmed that Morriston hospital in Swansea, the Heath in Cardiff and a new hospital planned for development in Gwent will be saved. But which will be closed of Prince Charles in Merthyr, Royal Glamorgan in Llantrisant and Princess of Wales in Bridgend?
Outside of these four or five hospitals, services will be downgraded to mean:
- No paediatric inpatient beds
- Midwife only led maternity services
- Minor injury units as opposed to A&E services.
These plans mean reduced access for urgent medical care for lots of people. Public transport, even in urban areas like Llanelli, Bridgend and Merythr, is appalling - infrequent, unreliable and expensive. In some areas, even just outside bigger towns and cities, transport is almost non-existent at weekends or in the evening. And public transport budgets are also being slashed.
The Welsh Ambulance Service is creaking at the seams - stories have been circulating in the press of staff shortages and their budget is up in the air. For four months running they've failed to meet the target of answering 65% of calls within 8 minutes.
The problem with the plan is not just the distance travelled to get to hospitals in an emergency. There is also the fact that, whenever somebody requires urgent in-patient care, they will be removed from their friends, family and community - all those things that add up to an essential support network for working class people.
The people of Wales are being told by the health boards that our view of the NHS (being the provision of hospital care) is outdated. They are modernising by downgrading hospitals. District general hospitals as we know them are old fashioned they say.
Fight for every hospital
It is true that many people would prefer to be looked after at home but delivered properly, community services are not the cheap option. Cutting hospital cover and not being able to invest in community services adequately is a scary proposition.
These plans represent massive cuts to the NHS in Wales and campaigners will fight for every hospital, ward, service and bed. It is vitally important that we link up health campaigners from every area of Wales. We can't have a situation where politicians argue for the saving of local services but accept that they must be paid for by cuts elsewhere.
Or as a Llanelli Labour MP said on the march to Save Prince Phillip A&E: "Let's keep politics out of it; this is about fighting for Llanelli."
In 2007 the Wales Assembly was thrown back when they attempted cuts - campaigns that sprung up across Wales forced a halt on the downgrading of hospital services. That sort of victory can be achieved again.
But the threat to our NHS is greater this time around. To win will take linking trade unions, health workers and community campaigners.
We want the health service to be what it was founded to be. We can win but there is not a moment to be lost and we need to commit to the struggle for an NHS for Wales that meets the needs of all people in Wales.