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Health services face devastating axe in East London

January 26, 2010

Respect MP George Galloway and Councillor Abjol Miah, Respect’s representative on Tower Hamlets council’s health scrutiny committee, have called for urgent action to challenge shocking plans that would axe over 800 hospital beds and slash more than £500 million from hospital budgets in North East London by 2017.

The proposals have been put forward by ‘Health for North East London’, a consortium of the seven Primary Care Trusts which hold the purse strings for health care. They are being pushed through as part of a £5 billion package of NHS spending cuts across London.

The plans are set out in a 192-page “business case” and a consultation document; local people have until March to challenge the plans, which would also divert 1 million outpatient appointments and thousands of A&E attendances from existing hospitals to a new network of “polyclinics”, few of which have yet been planned or built.

“Tower Hamlets is set to suffer a “double whammy”, with hospital services squeezed at the very time the costly £1.1 billion rebuild of the Royal London Hospital is due to come on stream,” said George Galloway. “The new hospital, together with Bart’s, is due to have 1,000 beds – at a staggering average cost of £1million per bed: but health bosses are now proposing to axe 200 of these beds, slashing the Trust’s income, and leaving it lumbered with an inflated bill beginning at £93m a year for the use of the new building and support services under the Private Finance Initiative scheme – a total bill of £5.3 billion over 35 years (Treasury figures).”

“But it gets worse,” added Councillor Abjol Miah. “If the consultation proposals are accepted, the Bart’s & London Trust would also faces demands for “productivity” increases of £210 million (32% of its expenditure), as well as the prospect of a 3% per year reduction in the “tariff” that determines how much it gets paid for patient care. With soaring overheads and income sharply reduced, the Trust would be forced to seek economies by sacking doctors, nurses and support staff.”

The consultation proposal looks to cut up to 37% from nursing costs, and up to 43% from spending on doctors: Tower Hamlets PCT is expected to cut spending on hospital services by £16m, despite a rapid increase in population (13% by 2013) and the health problems arising from local deprivation.

But it’s not only hospitals under the cosh: the consultation calls for services in primary care, mental health and community services to be put out to tender, aiming to slash £44m from spending in Tower Hamlets PCT alone through cut-price contractors – threatening another huge cull of jobs in England’s third most deprived borough. And GPs and other primary care staff will be expected to shoulder a large share of the work diverted from hospitals, and deliver services more cheaply.

Denouncing these plans as completely unacceptable for the people of East London, George Galloway MP said:

“These proposals could sound the death-knell of the Bart’s and London Trust and devastate health services in East London. But worse still, they are doomed to fail in their objective of balancing the books. There is no published evidence to show that “productivity savings” are achievable on this scale, or that the switch of outpatient care to polyclinics – for which there is no budget and few concrete plans – would save money or improve services. If, as we believe, these assumptions prove unfounded, East London will face an even bigger massacre of NHS jobs and vital health services.”

Councillor Miah commented:

“Respect is inviting MPs and councillors from all parties in North East London to join us in fighting to ensure that this plan is abandoned as unworkable and undesirable, and demanding government guarantees of NHS funding sufficient to maintain services and deliver safe and accessible health care to local people.”

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