That was the headline on many of the press reports following yesterday’s publication of results from the Healthcare Commission’s annual survey. Very few of the reports, though, had any real look at why things were going wrong.
It’s not unusual for the press to be unwilling to scratch the surface to discover the real stories. They are usually content with the horrific headlines. On Wednesday, when Brown and Cameron debated the impact of “targets” during PM Questions, Adam Boulton, political editor of Sky News, complained it was all too technical. He only showed enthusiasm for the debate about a European referendum. If Brown and Cameron are above Boulton’s head when it comes to understanding the NHS, what hope has he got of understanding what’s really happening!
Royal Cornwall Hospitals were highlighted by the Healthcare Commission as one of the four worst NHS Trusts in England. It’s worth looking behind the headlines a bit.
In August last year 27,000 people marched through Hayle against cuts to Cornish health services (report). They were protesting against the cuts arising from the Trust’s budget shortfall of £31m. There have been hundreds of redundancies, alongside ward closures and cuts in services.
Surgeons were instucted by senior management to slow down on admissions last year. They had completed 4,600 more operations than had been budgeted for. One surgeon, Peter Cox, was quoted at the time: “This is all about finance”. The surgeons had apparently been “too aggressive” in meeting the Government’s waiting list targets. Making cost savings was more important to managers than making people better.
The Trust is certainly not a model employer. As part of the overall cuts package last year, 30 workers aged over 65 were sacked just before the age discrimination regulations came in – a clear attempt to avoid redundancy payments. Unison won their reinstatement by threatening to go to the European Court.
Sue Wolstenholme, the Trust’s Director of Communications, complained that the Hayle demonstrators “need to understand the reality behind the situation much more clearly”. Disgracefully, she said the Trust would ignore the protests. Typical of senior management in much of the NHS, Trust bosses are more concerned with implementing the Government’s agenda than protecting patients, services and staff.
NHS management teams are only the transmision belt for cuts and chaos, though. The £31m budget deficit in Cornwall was just one element of the artificial NHS financial crisis manufactured by Patricia Hewitt. If Royal Cornish is failing now, it is because Government funding was insufficient to meet the needs of the patients in Cornwall, and the redundancies and service closures ordered by the Govermment have made things far, far worse.