By Lucette Davies
What has happened to the NHS? Is this simplified, streamlined system better and cheaper? What have all the reforms meant to the services provided? Looking at what was said and what is actually happening could leave many people feeling confused. Nye Bevan said when the NHS first started that it will last as long as people have faith enough to fight for it. Perhaps it is time to start fighting.
There is much argument between the Conservatives and Labour about what the true cost has been of Andrew Landsley’s reforms of the NHS. Health Minister Simon Burns has claimed the cost to be £1.3bn but Andy Burnham, the Shadow Minister for Health reported that much of the cost has been hidden away; the true cost being around £3.5bn.
The NHS reform bill is a far lengthier document than the original NHS bill written in 1948. All 400 pages are heavy with legal jargon, so it is not surprising that the majority of the public are still not sure what these changes mean.
We have heard much about how GP’s are running the commissioning of services and how patients will have a choice about where they receive any treatment. Many people are experiencing changes to the local health services available to them in their area. It will be a long time before we forget the scandal of Mid-Staffs hospital and the protests that surrounded the closure of Lewisham hospital.
It is not surprising that the public cannot understand the implications of the NHS reform bill but people will be aware of how the services offered have changed. Services are now also being affected by the £20bn of cuts that will be implemented by 2015.
If you look into what the new structure of the NHS is, it becomes hard to believe anyone would feel it is streamlined or even simple. Davis Cameron’s promise to ring-fence expenditure to frontline NHS services has certainly been broken. Here in Eastbourne the level of public protests against changes suggest that patients get very little choice.
At the Eastbourne District General Hospital a decision was made to move the general surgery and orthopaedic wards to the Hastings Conquest Hospital and for a temporary closure of the consultant led maternity unit and the inpatient pediatric unit. Only a midwife led maternity unit will be offered for the next 18 months. Many fear that this may become a permanent change and that A&E will be the next to go.
Eastbourne lies just 18 miles from Hastings but it often takes over 45-50 minutes to get down the very poor road that links Eastbourne with Hastings.
Sussex Partnership runs all the psychiatric inpatient units from Chichester to Dover and has made a large reduction to the number of beds available. Looking at these cuts revealed some truly alarming facts
One person who works tirelessly for improvements to be made to psychiatric services in the area is counsellor Greg Szanto.
Mr Szanto does a lot of work with Eating Disorder patients and said: “It is much harder to get a bed for any patient these days, I often try to find a bed for people who are dangerously underweight but by the time a bed is available it is usually too late, I have been to a lot of funerals in the last 18 months.”
Mr Szanto does some voluntary work with prisoners in Lewes Prison, a place that he describes as “dreadful”. He says between 80 and 90% of the prisoners are in need of psychiatric help and he feels: “They have to rely on each other for help when they have problems.”
When asked about how recent changes to services and changes to personal income are affecting his clients Mr Szanto has said that many patients had suffered a crises that resulted from financial or housing worries, he said: “All these changes alongside the reduction in social services support have led to many emergency hospital admissions, suicides and prison sentences.”
Going back to Geg Szanto, after making a lot of effort to find someone from within the NHS to speak to me, and getting no response he told me: “Psychiatrists are under pressures not to speak to the media, but they are not happy.”
Sussex Partnership, the trust that runs all psychiatric care in this area did answer a freedom of information act request. They have said that at times of increased demand they may have to offer someone a bed outside of their home town. When this happens and a patient is informal they may choose to decline that offer. They also said they avoid sending anyone home from an inpatient unit early because they need the bed for someone else.
Eventually I managed to get a psychiatric nurse to agree to speak to me. In response to the reply I had been given by Sussex Partnership she said that this is not true She said: “The figures are being manipulated, people are sometimes offered a bed as far away as North London in a private hospital but will usually turn that down as it is so far away.
“It is not true that patients are never discharged prematurely, I have to do this often.”
When asked about the working conditions for nurses in psychiatric hospitals she replied that: “Morale is very low, we cannot give the care that we would like to. I never seem to stop, the workload has become huge. After a long period with a pay freeze we have now all had to take a pay cut and the public were angry when we took action over our pensions.
“There is a lot of bullying from managers, nurses will get bullied even if they take time off through sickness and certainly there is bullying not to speak as I am now.”
Changes are still being made that will affect the lives of psychiatric patients. Many people have been take off incapacity benefits and put on job seekers allowance when they are clearly far too ill to hold down a job even if there was one available. Atos has now started assessing everyone who is in receipt of Disability Living Allowance and the Independent Living Fund has recently been stopped.
Many people may say that all this is necessary to cut the deficit, but the deficit has been the same for two years. Every politician has said that they believe the NHS did need some reform, but this reform means some people are paying a very high price.