THE LATEST report on safety standards in our hospitals lays bare some shocking examples of safety failures in some NHS hospital trusts. The Hospital Guide, compiled by a joint private/public body known as "Dr Foster", highlights 12 trusts that underperform on patient safety measures. The report highlights foreign bodies being left in patients after surgery, operating on the wrong body part and 5,024 patients with low risk conditions dying in hospital. Predictably the media headlines blame the national health service, trying to weaken support for the NHS and its hard working staff. But these problems are mainly caused by the privatisation and cuts to our NHS that New Labour has instigated. Many of the hospitals in deepest crisis were Foundation Trusts, initiated by Labour Health secretary Alan Milburn in 2002.The criteria for hospitals to become Foundation trusts included getting their finances in order and meeting targets, regardless of the consequences.
Foundation hospitals represent a further move towards privatisation as they have more financial autonomy than other hospitals (though patient care is not always a priority).They are supposed to involve the local community but the real decisions are made at the top. Before privatisation and PFI there was at least some local accountability for health services through the community health councils. We now need local health services that are run and planned by democratic committees with representatives of NHS workers and the local community. One big incentive for hospital chiefs to obtain foundation status is to secure a fat pay rise. The salary of the chief executive of Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre NHS Trust rose 32% from £125,000 to £165,000 on gaining foundation status. The Royal College of Surgeons' President explained that: "Too many hospitals are too concerned with meeting financial targets at the expense of clinical standards, and we are seeing patients suffering as a consequence."
Unison (the largest trade union in the health service) calls for Basildon and Thurrock Foundation Hospital to be taken back under NHS control, and calls for a public enquiry into patient care at the hospital.They explain that the hospital's privatised cleaning contract has been inadequate for many years with too few cleaners and not enough training. This is the direct consequence of private companies inside our hospitals ensuring fat profits at the expense of patient care and of staff wages and conditions. Public money fills the pockets of companies who make huge profits from building hospitals under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). As interest rates for private borrowers are rising, it now costs £6.3 million more to finance a £100 million deal than it did two years ago. And it costs £23 million more to fund such a deal through PFI than using money borrowed from the government. In consequence, less money is available for patient care. While supporting Unison's demands on bringing hospitals back into NHS control, the health unions should also call for an end to all privatisation and cuts in the NHS. And they should stop paying huge amounts of their members' money to the Labour Party who are responsible for the cuts and privatisation of our health service.