St Mary’s is safe but the NHS remains at risk

Posted: 16/09/11

Reports that St Mary's Hospital is pencilled in for closure in order to realise the development potential of the prime central London site have been swiftly denied.

I am encouraged by the emphatic rebuttal on the part of the Imperial Hospital Trust. The trouble is that the Trust has a massive financial shortfall to deal with, at a time of unprecedented instability in the NHS, and all choices are going to be difficult ones. Worse still, the Conservatives are pushing through a reckless, wasteful and bureaucratic reorganisation of the NHS, which will get in the way of patient care.

Forcing through the biggest NHS reorganisation in its history when finances are squeezed and all efforts should be dedicated to making sound efficiencies and improving services, is high-cost and high-risk.

The NHS and Social Care Bill was railroaded through the House of Commons this week, leaving the essential elements of the Tories' long terms plans to set the NHS up as a full scale market, based on the model of the privatised utilities, firmly in place. A new economic regulator will enforce competition law on the NHS for the first time, and have the power to fine hospitals 10% of their turnover for working together.

The Bill removes a key protection of the 1946 Act that set up the NHS - that the Secretary of State for Health is directly accountable for providing the health service. The Government's plans will break up the NHS as a national public service so that patients will increasingly see the services on which they depend subject to the lottery of where they live.

No fewer than 5 new quangos are being set up to manage the NHS, and local Primary Care Trusts also disappear into 5 different groups- all involving more start-up costs but offering less transparency for the public.

Adapting the NHS as needs change and medical skills and technologies change will never to uncontroversial. But the upheaval this reorganisation brings, combined with funding cuts, make change harder not easier, and we are all the losers.