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NHS rations care to cope with crisis

NHS ENGLAND Chief Executive Simon Stevens has announced that the NHS will allow the waiting time for some treatments to increase – in order to liberate vital funds for cancer treatment and Accident and Emergency (A&E) services.

This is not a case of simple prioritisation of treatments. There have been several major incidents (unfortunately) when routine operations have had to be cancelled in order to cope with an unexpected and unusually large influx of casualties from a natural disaster or terrorist event.  Any one of us waiting in hospital for a scheduled operation would probably give way to someone needing a life-saving operation: that’s a humanitarian response.

What has been announced today is an accountant’s device in which no one is counting the human cost. Few operations such as knee or hip replacements will be done, to divert those resources to cancer and A&E services. Stevens acknowledges that those waiting for these treatments will have to wait longer – but all he can suggest is that GPs refer the least bad cases to physiotherapy, rather than to hospital for hip replacement. Older patients needing these treatments to help them live a pain-free and independent life will have to remain in pain for longer – to help the NHS balance its books.

The shocking part of this is that the delays need not happen. When it comes to killing people, the Government can always find the dosh for new nuclear weapons. Why can’t it delay the nuclear weapons and use the savings for the NHS’s work in keeping people alive?

Worse: most hospitals in the UK are now paying huge sums to private sector companies which have built new hospitals or refurbished old ones in the last 20 years under the terms of a “PFI” deal.  These deals came up with the capital for the building work – but they have saddled NHS Trusts with having to repay the loans, plus interest, as well as management costs for the duration of the loan period and quite often extra spurious consultancy and arrangement fees. Multinational companies are picking up shedloads of taxpayers’ money for very little.

Few Trusts embraced these deals with joy: they were channelled towards them by former Governments – and today’s Government has a moral obligation to remove the penalties which PFI deals imposed. Our elderly have no moral obligation to step back and forego treatments they need so that others can be treated instead.

Clare Marx, President of the Royal College of Surgeons in England, expressed concern that delaying operations could have serious consequences.


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