Letter to the Weston Mercury from Dr Richard Lawson, Protect our NHS campaigner.

To the Editor

Mercury readers will be well aware of the many problems that Weston Hospital has faced in recent years, and also of the immense strain that the NHS has been under during the pandemic. People may not have a clear idea of how the NHS is being slowly but surely privatised over the last 34 years. The process began in 1987, and continues with the Health and Social Care Bill that is going through Parliament this year.

In 1987, the Margaret Thatcher’s Government introduced the “Internal Market” in the NHS, by creating a division between purchasers and providers of care services. This created large amounts of extra administrative work needed to calculate (or estimate) the costs of everything from brain surgery to bedpans. 

In the years that followed, several separate “reforms” carved the NHS up into smaller chunks which are more capable of being sold off to private health corporations.

Sir Simon Stevens, (until recently, CEO of NHS England) opposed Obamacare when he was CEO of a US healthcare corporation. He introduced Sustainability and Transformation plans which aim to reduce NHS beds, despite the fact that the UK has among the lowest ratio of beds to population in the developed world. The plans aim to cut £5 billion a year in NHS spending, and reduce the number of A&E departments in the UK from 144 to 50 – so the loss of Weston’s A&E is part of this picture. 

Integrated Care Systems were introduced in 2017. These are very similar to the American Accountable Care Organisations. Their aim is to reduce spending. If a private partner in the ICS manages to reduce spending, it is allowed to keep the savings. This is an incentive to cut corners.

NHS Hospitals are increasingly renting space and facilities to private health care organisations.

Numerous private centres are being set up to do things like hip replacement surgery, which are simple and relatively predictable. If anything goes wrong subsequently, the NHS is expected to put things right, not the private corporation who did the operation.

Since 2010, NHS contracts worth £96 billion have been awarded to private health corporations. 20% of NHS bids have been awarded to these private firms.

The Health and Social Care Bill will, among other things, install representatives of private care companies in NHS decision making bodies.

All these “reforms” are making the NHS more complicated and expensive. If taxpayers’ money is handed to a private healthcare corporation, some will go on health services, but, unlike when the NHS provides the care, some must go as profits and as dividends to the corporations’ shareholders. Marketisation also means that every action and item used must generate administrative paperwork. This means that our health services become ever more cash starved.If we do not stop the process of privatisation, we will be left with a rump NHS that runs emergency care while anything remotely profitable will be sold off. Remember, private care facilities may be able to perform procedures from cataract surgery to hip replacement, but they do not have A&E departments. Any emergencies in these facilities will be shunted over to the NHS to be sorted out. 

The people of North Somerset need to be properly informed about what is happening to our NHS. Do we want it to be taken over by American Healthcare Corporations, and eventually be changed to an insurance – based model which will inevitably screen off people with expensive long-term conditions, or do we want to continue with NHS healthcare which is free and open to all? 

Protect our NHS North Somerset is calling for our MPs to commit themselves to halt and reverse the privatisation of the NHS. We hope that others will join us in this.

Dr Richard Lawson

Retired GP

Time For A Change

For the last five years, Protect our NHS has been a part of the campaign, spearheaded by the Save Weston A&E group, to retain a 24-hour Emergency Department at Weston General Hospital.  Now we believe it is time for us to broaden the scope of our campaign and confront the multitude of health issues facing North Somerset at the end of this dreadful year.

It is our intention, therefore, to support the work of our NHS throughout our county and region.  And we want to emphasise that small word “our” in our campaign’s name.  The NHS belongs not to government, nor to management, nor to clinical commissioners and definitely not to U.S. Health Insurance conglomerates.  It belongs to us.  And it is “us” who have to fight to keep it safe from destruction by political ideologists or exploitation by rapacious multi-nationals.

We will still be keeping a close watch on the changes at Weston General Hospital now that it has “merged” with UHBT to become the University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust and we are preparing ourselves for the “Healthy Weston” review in April 2021.  Already we want to know which merger promises made by the hospital and the CCG have been kept?

  • Are patients getting the same treatments in the same places as they did before the merger?
  • Has there been increased diversity, capacity and resilience among staff?
  • Has the merger allowed for greater training and development opportunities across a much wider portfolio of services? 
  • Has it strengthened the knowledge base, peer support, skills and experience of employees?
  • Has it helped bring stability to Weston General Hospital?
  • What impact has the overnight closure of Weston’s A&E had on other hospitals in the region?
  • If the overnight pressure on other hospitals becomes too great will it be possible to re-open Weston’s A&E? 

And in the light of recent announcements can a ratio of 1 nurse to 10 or 12 patients – increased from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence guidelines for patient safety of 1:6 (days) and 1:8 (nights) – ever be regarded as genuinely safe practice? 

Finally, after the corrupt cronyism revealed by the PPE procurement mess that was then followed by the shambolic chaos of our “World Beating Track and Trace system”, there is time for genuine hope and excitement at the end of 2020 with the arrival of the Covid19 vaccines.  We, at Protect our NHS (North Somerset), along with everyone else, have been delighted to hear this excellent news.  And as ever, our thanks go out 

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