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Can this man be trusted with the NHS?

Two weeks ago, I turned up at Bournemouth hospital A&E at 8.30 in the morning, with a severely swollen right arm and a copy of its previous medical history.

I was seen within 20 minutes, a cannula was inserted into my arm and I was told to get to Poole hospital, where the orthopedic experts would be expecting me. To cut a long story short, I received heavy doses of intravenous antibiotics, an operation to clean out my arm and infected bone (osteomylitis) and was released into the wild after a 14-day stay and am currently awaiting the arrival of a district nurse who will pump me full of antibiotics for the next month or so.

God bless the NHS.

The National Health Service was founded in 1948 and it delivers free healthcare to everyone, whenever they need it. It is the UK’s largest employer and one of our most respected and admired institutions.

However, this venerable behemoth is being gradually undermined by the government of the day, which is busy trying to dismantle and privatise it, bit by bit.

The NHS is in the headlines every day, being assaulted from the right for excessive waiting times, bodged cancer survival rates and financial waste. The reason the NHS is struggling is because, despite the coalition’s pledges to leave the NHS alone, it now has to tender out all its services.

This means that in one hospital you might receive three hot, tasty meals a day (Poole’s roasts are fantastic), yet in another, receive outsourced mush with a passing aquaintantance of a microwave. For people who are bedbound for weeks on end, meals become the highlight of the day and poor food quickly lowers morale and increases waste.

Scandals are emerging, along with the sense that the government is outsourcing not only the work, but also its moral responsibility to provide appropriate public services.

The frontline NHS staff are trying to keep the service going as the infrastructure is being carved away from them. Since the coalition came to power, 20,000 nursing jobs have been cut, or left vacant, 8,000 beds gone and A&E is at an eight-year low.

As I said, mealtimes are important for bored patients, but so too is television. In Poole hospital, every bed has a flat screen television and internet access. Happy days. But there’s a catch. If you want to watch it, to tune out the wails of misery and pain, you have to pay £10 for 24 hours (it runs even when the television is switched off); it’s more expensive than a Sky subscription.

Well, there must be a way to circumvent this. Simply access iPlayer or something on your laptop; but no, there is no wi-fi access unless you are a private patient. My sister works at Southampton hospital, about 30 miles away and she says the patients are all given free internet access and are very happy.

Well, you think, at least the television is a useful revenue stream for the cash-strapped NHS. 1,500 TVs could pull them in half a million pounds a year; handy. But no; the NHS receives not a penny from this rip-off, it all goes to the company that installed and ostensibly maintains the system. A company called Hospedia.

So, after trecking into Poole town centre to find some wi-fi, I look them up on the internet. Hospedia describes itself as ‘The world’s leading provider of point of care systems in healthcare, including media, information, clinical support software and infrastructure services.’ Whatever.

Charging the sick and the vulnerable to access TV in hospital is unacceptable, the system is misleading and difficult for the elderly or injured to use, which has angered relatives who want to use the TV to bring some familiarity and stimulation to patients in hospital. Former head of the Patients Association, Michael Summers, said: “This is a tax on the ill. They are a captive audience and many patients simply can’t afford these prices.”

The Labour party needs to make a commitment to reinstating the NHS as the preferred provider. So far, only health spokesman, Andy Burnham, has admitted Labour went too far with the NHS market, building the bridge that the coalition is now storming across. If Labour sent a firm message to the private market, saying they intend to reverse the market, it might discourage them from getting too involved.

Back to Bournemouth, where recent developments may have huge ramifications for the NHS as a whole. Monitor, the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission has forbidden Bournemouth and Poole from merging, a result which has stunned the NHS. The CEO of Poole said it cost them more than £6 million in lawyers and paperwork. Withour the merger, his trust will have an £8m-a-year defecit.

Tony Spotswood, CEO of Royal Bournemouth, said: “The merger would have saved £24m a year, with great benefits to patients. A single A&E would offer 24-hour, seven-day-a-week consultants”, but that has been scrapped along with a new maternity centre.

This means that certain areas of specialism, only viable when shared, will go and patients will be forced to travel far away. Poole and Bournemouth, only 10 milkes apart and with no other competition, have been forced to undertake to the Competition Commission that they will not try any backdoor co-operation. Bournemouth’s motto is “Putting patients first”, but priority goes to competition ideology

Apparently many other NHS trusts are planning to collaborate or merge services, but the Bournemouth/Poole decision has stopped them in their tracks. Monitor, which supervises foundation trusts, is internally at war, because of its two conflicting interests – to force competition yet maintain the financial viability of trusts. Now it will see Poole at risk of going bust because of its duty to competition.

The current dismantling of the NHS is going to be a huge issue at the next (2015) election. There is still much to defend, but the opposition must nail their colours to the mast and the public needs to continue adding pressure and showing its support. If not, our children will be asking us; “Where were you when they destroyed the NHS?”

Nigel Phillips

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