Tales from Walk for the NHS – stop cuts and sell offs that hurt patients and staff

Walk for the NHS set off from Calderdale Royal Hospital on Friday 22nd August, arrived at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary around midday and after a rally in George Square Huddersfield,  carried on to Dewsbury District Hospital. We arrived in the early evening to a great welcome from Save Dewsbury Hospital campaigners, the GMB, and Mike Wood MP.

Walk 4 NHS reaches Dewsbury Hospital- photo:Paula Sherriff

On Saturday, Walk for the NHS set off again from Dewsbury Town Hall and walked through rain and shine to arrive at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield in the afternoon, where the Walk met up with the main 999 Call for the NHS Jarrow- London People’s March and then proceeded to a rally outside Wakefield Cathedral.

Walk 4 NHS reaches Wakefield

Walk for the NHS aimed to make it plain to the unaccountable, unelected NHS chiefs, that the public won’t stand for their plans to cut and sell off our NHS services.

In Calderdale, Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Wakefield, this is what the NHS chiefs are all trying to do.

In fleeting moments, between conversations, concentrating on the effort of keeping on putting one tired foot in front of the other, it struck me we were on a kind of pilgrimage.

Near Roberttown when we were few in number and a bit damp. Photo:Adrian Cruden

Here are some of the tales that were told along the way.

NHS cuts and sell offs damage us all – patients, their families and friends, and NHS staff

The stories are anonymous and identifying details have been omitted, because people are afraid to speak out in public.

The TUPE’d NHS worker

(TUPE is Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) – regulations that are supposed to protect the terms and conditions and wages of staff who are transferred to another employer when their organisation is taken over.)

A private company bids successfully for services it turns out they can’t deliver, runs at a big loss and puts patients and staff at risk, as the quest for profits overrides care

This was the gist of the experience of a former NHS staff member who’d been transferred across to a private health care company,  after their successful, effective service was put out to competitive tender.

Problems that put patients at risk were caused by the private health care company’s indifference to the service and to the staff they had taken over – they see patient care only as a means to the end of making a profit.  

But the TUPE’d former NHS staff have held things together so that patient satisfaction remains high, although there has been an increase in patients’ complaints and risks to patients.

This is the future for Calderdale’s community and public health care services that are currently provided by the hospitals Trust, if Calderdale Clinical Commissioning Group and Calderdale Council get their way and “re-procure” those services by putting them out to competitive tender.

A second NHS worker, who has seen colleagues working in another service TUPE’d to a private company, said,

“When the amount of money available is the same and the company is driven by the legal requirement to make a profit for shareholders, then the first thing to be affected will be staff. Either by sacking some, cutting pay or both – this is what I expect to happen increasingly as more private healthcare firms take over NHS contracts.”

The cancer survivors

Staff are holding things together under pressure from funding cuts

The story of staff holding things together under pressure also came out when I spoke with two cancer survivors who had both been treated in Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield. They had both recovered and were very thankful for the treatment they’d received. But they both also spoke unprompted, about how over-stretched the staff had been who cared for them, due to staff and funding cuts, and they were worried about how long the hospital service could survive if the cuts and sell offs continue.

Pinderfields Hospital will have to take more patients as Dewsbury District Hospital is downgraded.

The Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust, which both Pinderfields and Dewsbury District Hospital are part of, has been dragged down over the years by an impossible PFI burden.

The Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease patient

Rationing medications

A woman we stopped to talk with at a bus stop said she suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and recently her Doctor had stopped half her drugs – not because her medical needs had changed, but because of a lack of money in the NHS to continue paying for them.

The A&E patient

“Nurses had no time to nurse, they had to fill in forms.” A patient has first-hand experience of how the NHS has deteriorated, since funding and staffing cuts have bitten and the NHS has been turned into a healthcare “market”.

“Two years ago I was rushed into Calderdale Royal Hospital for an emergency blood transfusion.

I was put into a women’s Medical Assessment ward. It was full of old women who’d collapsed or fallen and been brought into hospital.

We were asked if we wanted dinner. The food was put in front of three old ladies and just left, although they needed help with feeding. One old lady couldn’t cut up her chicken so she gave up, and she couldn’t reach the spoon so she was trying to eat semolina with her knife.

I complained to a nurse that the old ladies couldn’t eat and the nurse said they didn’t want to eat and had had enough.

There was no nursing care, no attempt to try and build up people’s strength.

Instead the nurse had to fill in forms about where the old ladies were going to go after discharge from hospital.

Another time I was in a main ward with old people who were got out of bed and just left.

I experienced rough treatment when a nurse helped me to get dressed.

Looking at it from the nurses’ point of view, this is all because they are understaffed. They don’t have the time they need to care for patients.

My daughter in law was a health care assistant on the maternity ward. It was very understaffed and she had to do a lot of the work that the nurses should have done, because they were busy filling forms.

We should restore the NHS back to the way it was when the NHS started and people were looked after – when it was for health and not for making money. The profit motive has been introduced and now money’s the most important thing.”

We won’t let you put our healthcare into private hands, for profit

The “Right Care” proposals that are being rolled out all over the country- including Calderdale, Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Wakefield – go under different names but all involve:

  • cutting NHS spending
  • cutting acute and emergency hospital services (so that many patients have to travel further for these services – Care Closer to Home, really?)
  • replacing these hospital services with cheaper “care in the community”, largely provided by private health care companies

Here is Paul Cooney from Huddersfield KONP talking about these proposals at the Walk for the NHS rally in George Square, Huddersfield.

Gary Scott, who in the spring organised the “Only Clowns Would Close Our A&E’s” protest in Halifax, said,

“Without us people getting off our bums and doing something, these dangerous changes might already be in motion. But we, and many other people made a nuisance of ourselves, despite the vested interests we faced.

We said at the the walk I organised back in March that this was all about cuts and privatisation.

And we’ve been proved right, beds are to be cut, provision is to be cut, jobs are to be cut – all in the name of a “better” service! You didn’t fool us then, and you don’t fool us now. You’re trying to put our healthcare into private hands, for profit. We won’t let you.”

In Calderdale and Huddersfield, NHS Commissioners want to start carrying out major NHS service changes without public consultation.

Save Calderdale Royal Hospital campaigners are urging the Council’s Scrutiny Panel to make sure that the NHS Commissioners consult the public before making these changes happen.

People power – not party politics – will save and restore the NHS

The People’s March for the NHS is building pressure from people power, as the only way to make political parties realise that if they want anyone to vote for them, they must embrace policies that will restore the NHS to its core principles, restore its funding levels, and undo all the marketisation and privatisation of the NHS that has been going on since the 1980s.

Darlo mum Rehana Azam made this plain in her speech to the Wakefield rally.

Michael Parkinson, regional Unison health workers’ representative,  walked from Huddersfield Royal Hospital to Huddersfield Town Centre on the Friday, and from Leeds to Wakefield with the main Jarrow to London march on the Saturday.

Michael said,

“Reflecting on this march, I think it is a time to say that we all owe an immense gratitude to all those who campaign on behalf of the NHS – no matter what town they come from and no matter what their political allegiance.

The beauty of what these Jarrow marchers are achieving is that they are raising and exposing local issues as they pass through different towns and regions and the local press seem to be picking up on that.

The case in point has been proved in Calderdale and Huddersfield, so the work that Katherine Homer has done with the feeder march Walk for the NHS, needs to be singled out for particular praise.”

None of the main political parties is innocent of the cuts and sell offs that have been gathering pace for the last 30+ years, and now seriously threaten the ability of the NHS to do the job it was set up to do.

The NHS no longer provides universal, equitable health care that is free at the point of need and based on clinical need. And the law no longer requires it to do this.

NHS services are threatened by:

  • increasing funding cuts (dressed up as efficiency savings),
  • the massive costs of PFI repayments and PFI service charges
  • the growing number of sell offs to private health care companies that cut costs to make profits
  • legislation that came into effect last year (the Health and Social Care Act 2012) that is designed to open up the NHS to takeover by global health care companies, through the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal currently being secretly negotiated between the EU and the USA.

The Fight is Hard, but United we are Stronger

Finally to those who have enough money and good enough health to think of jumping ship for private health care – have a read of this – even the Torygraph is telling people the NHS is way better than private health care. Private health care will not be there when you really need it, since it has no A&E facilities and employs less well-trained staff.

Oh, and in the USA where private health care is the norm, paying for health care when the insurance runs out is a major cause of personal bankruptcies.

Katherine Horner, who organised Walk for the NHS, said,

“I would like to thank everyone who came on Friday and Saturday. I would also like to thank North Kirklees and Calderdale Greens and Calderdale Trades Council. Also Christine from Save Dewsbury Hospital campaign, and Simon Cope and Paula Sheriff, Paul Cooney and Aiden Cruden for being fabulous and inspiring speakers, and the lovely ladies from the GMB. Also to the businesses that supported us – the co-op supermarket and JB garden centre. Good luck to Christine and Aiden who are carrying on with the People’s March for the NHS. All I can say to everyone is – The fight is hard but United we are Stronger.”

Thanks to the Coop for fruit, drinks and snacks

A post script: Integration? More like smoothing the path for global health care companies to profit from the NHS

NHS Chiefs say they want to “integrate” services – but this is the opposite of what’s happening, as services are more and more fragmented by sell offs and changes to the way the NHS is run.

These changes are designed to “harmonise” the NHS with the American private healthcare system, so that the NHS can be opened up to takeover by global healthcare corporations by way of the secretive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal that is currently being negotiated between the EU and the USA.

Dr Lucy Reynolds, Professor of health policy at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says that talk of “integration” is code for introducing an American system of private health insurance.

Sure enough, Calderdale and Huddersfield’s proposed NHS shake up, that aims to cut A&E and acute hospital services and replace them by community health and social care, is modelled on a system used by the American “health maintenance organisation”, Kaiser Permanente.

Although NHS chiefs paint these changes as driven by local clinicians, in fact the proposed NHS cuts, downgrades and sell offs are top-down changes driven by the government, via its puppet quango NHS England.

NHS England isn’t the NHS we all think of when we think of the NHS – it’s a quango that’s responsible for developing the business of buying health care services from private companies. It is headed by the ex-head of an American private health care company, United Health.

NHS England works hand in glove with  United Health – the American company NHS England’s boss used to work for

Freedom of Information requests by Spinwatch show that the American healthcare company United Health, now has undue influence over NHS England.

United Health has been chairing and providing the secretariat for a secretive group of management consultancy companies who are all jockeying to win an estimated £1bn of contracts advising clinical commissioning groups.

The companies are KPMG, Capita, McKinsey, EY, PWC and Low Associates, and the group meets regularly with NHS England’s Director of Commissioning Support Services and Market Development. Its meetings are unminuted.

Recently United Health paid for NHS managers to visit its care centres in the USA.

It doesn’t take much to join up the dots, does it? United Health and NHS England will support the management consultancy companies in their bids to win contracts advising clinical commissioning groups.

Then clinical commissioning groups will commission United Health to run our NHS services.

The fat cats will get fatter and the rest of us will be ripped off and fobbed off with poor quality services.

These secret unminuted meetings may all be happening in London, but one of the companies that attends them – KPMG – has already had a formative role in setting up our local commissioning support unit, that does a lot of the work for our West Yorkshire clinical commissioning groups.

In 2013, KPMG’s Leeds office seconded Pete Thomas to work as Finance Lead for the new NHS West Yorkshire Commissioning Support Unit (CSU). His job was to prepare the CSU business plan.

Low Associates are a lobbying firm run by Sally Low, wife of former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, who was responsible for pushing through the NHS privatisation Act – the Health and Social Care Act 2013.

The mesh of government and corporate interests doesn’t end there.

In 2013, New Labour Health Secretary Alan Milburn  joined Price Waterhouse Coopers to head up a board overseeing the consultancy and accountancy giant’s private health care business, which is moving in on the NHS now that the Health and Social Care Act is in place.

Milburn is also chairman of the European Advisory Board of Bridgepoint Capital, the vulture fund investors behind Care UK.

This is why we walked for the NHS. To stop the NHS cuts and sell offs and smoke and mirrors. And corruption of public life.

The Guardian article about United Health’s influence over NHS England is here.

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