Half of all community hospitals in England set to close. Have you heard this headline? No? No-one has, but under the guise of the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (you probably haven’t heard of that either, most of us haven’t, hospital services throughout the country are under threat.
Of course there’s no national headline because under the ruptured, fragmented and increasingly privatised NHS that resulted from the Health and Social Care Act brought in by the lib-dem and Tory coalition government in 2012 quangos called Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) now make decisions about our health services at a local level.
In Devon, we have two CCGs: New Devon, sometimes referred to as Wider Devon that covers West, North and East Devon, the other is Torbay and South Devon. Last year, these worked together to propose massive cuts to community hospitals across our county. Torbay and South Devon after running a public consultation that seems to have changed very little if any of the published plans has already announced the closure of four community hospitals- Paington, Bovey Tracey and Dartmouth, where plans include selling these hospital sites and Ashburton and Buckfastleigh community hospital where no decision has yet been made beyond closure and likely to follow suit in being sold off.
East Devon is set to lose over 50% of its community hospital beds due to the planned closures there, North Devon Hospital faces threats to many of its services leaving the people of North Devon to travel to Plymouth or Exeter, Okehampton and Honiton community hospitals have already bene identified for the axe.
In total, we are set to lose over 600 hospital beds in our county. That’s 600 people potentially staying in general hospitals for longer, perhaps miles from their family and friends. The CCGs believe that they can provide better care for these people in their own homes. A very laudable ambition, but far from any reality. Private care companies have been notorious in placing carers in stressful, high pressure roles with low pay where they can give only a few minutes to each patient before rushing off to the next.
Patients in a cottage hospital receive around the clock nursing care, have professional who can monitor their condition and respond appropriately to any deterioration. Can 30 minutes a day from perhaps 3 different people each around for only 10 minutes compare to that?
The CCGs are working on a misguided notion that hundreds of volunteers will appear from the voluntary sector. Just ask anyone working in the sector how easy it is to find volunteers in these days of political austerity. Ask yourself who you would prefer looking after an ill relative- a well-meaning retired solicitor or a trained health professional? I know which I would choose.
The scope of the removal of hospitals and hospital beds in mind boggling. Across the country the same is happening and across the country local newspapers report the impact only in their area. This is only possible because of the ending of a truly National Health Service and its replacement with supposed independent Clinical Commissioning Groups. That these so-called local and independent bodies throughout England are making the same decisions should be a cause for concern for us all.
Labour stands for reinstating a truly National Health Service, an end to the privatisations that this government has been happily increasing and once again bringing about a health service that is the envy of the world.
By Keith Johnson