Monday, 18 April 2005

HEALTH - Talk or Action

An authoritative survey by the Picker Institute Europe, Is the NHS Getting Better of Worse?, shows that dirty hospitals and lack of information about treatments are among patients’ main concerns about the state of the national health service today. The Institute’s Chief Executive, Professor Angela Coulter says, ‘The most disappointing thing is that all the rhetoric about creating patient-centred care hasn’t led to improvements across the board’ (Times, 18 Apr 05).
Among the report’s findings are:
• In 2004 only 54% said that the ward they were in was very clean – 2% less than in 2002 – while only 48% said that bathrooms and lavatories were very clean, 3% less than in 2002.
• In 1998, 87% of GP patients said that they had sufficient time with the doctors, but by 2004 this had fallen to 74%
• Between 2002 and 2004 the proportion of patients complaining about the inconvenient opening hours of GP surgeries had increased from 20 per cent to 22 per cent.
• Reports from patients indicated increasing difficulties in getting an appointment at a convenient time. Under Mr Blair the loss of Saturday surgeries was a particular complaint.

Why Labour are all talk
In 1997 Mr Blair said that there were ‘24 hours to save the NHS’. Then in 2002 he said ‘if the NHS is not basically fixed by the next election, then I am quite happy to suffer the consequences. I am quite willing to be held to account by the voters if we fail’ (Sunday People, 27 Jan 02). All talk. Mr Blair has spent an extra £29.1 billion or £1,400 per household on the NHS, yet:
• There are still over one million people on the waiting list throughout the UK – 845,200 in England, 67,406 in Wales, 113,612 in Scotland and 49,250 in Northern Ireland. That’s 1,075,500, or over one million people, waiting for treatment under Mr Blair.
• Mr Blair’s waiting statistics only tell half the story. There are many hidden waits for ultrasound scans. For example, in 2004, 158 hospital trusts found patients waiting for routine MRI scans for more than six months in two-fifths of hospitals (BBC News, The Waiting Game, 11 Jan 05). The survey found that, in one in twelve trusts, the wait was over one
year (BBC News, The Waiting Game, Jan 11 05).
• More people wait for longer under Mr Blair. The average waiting time for treatment in 1999-2000 was 90 days. By 2003-4, it had risen to 95 days (Hospital Episode Statistics, Department of Health, 7 Dec 04).
• The number of people being killed by the hospital ‘superbug’ MRSA has more than doubled since 1997 (National Statistics, Health Statistics Quarterly, Spring 04, p.16) despite Labour’s 23 ‘initiatives’ to tackle the problem.
5,000 people die every year from hospital-acquired infections – more people than are killed on Britain’s roads.

Liberal Democrats
No one really knows how the Lib Dems will fund the health service. Their ring-fenced NICs would raise less than their spending plans indicate for the NHS – there would be a black hole per year of over £6 billion in 2005-6, and by 2007-8 around £15 billion.
The Lib Dems have pledged to spend an extra £8 billion on the NHS - so that would mean further tax rises – regardless of the system they choose. As Andrew George has said, ‘Our slogan at the next election will be “Trust us, we will put your taxes up”’ (Radio 5 Live, Simon Mayo Show, 19 Jan 05).

What will Conservatives do?

Conservatives have a clear Timetable for Action on health.

Within the first day of a Conservative Government
• We will abolish Whitehall targets which mean hospitals cannot close beds or wards for cleaning. Doctors and nurses should control our hospitals.

Within the first week
• We will make it possible for people to have access to information about hospital performance, including on infection rates. Patients will be able to tell how likely they are to contract infection in a hospital department. Hospitals will also have to publish their action plans on how they are fighting infections. Local hospitals should be made accountable to patients.

Within the first month
• We will set out our programme of legislation to give patients the right to choose to be treated in any hospital that provides NHS standards of care at NHS costs. Patients should not be forced to be treated in dirty hospitals.
• We will set out plans to support infection control teams and recruit more front-line staff to back up hospitals’ efforts to fight infection. Rapid action is needed to stop infections spreading.

Within the first year
• We will set out how we can boost training in infection control. Health professionals and cleaners need to know best practice.
• We will speed up work to introduce new solutions to combat hospital-acquired infection into local hospitals. The latest science and research needs to be used to combat MRSA.
We will cut waiting lists by:
• Giving hospitals immediate Foundation status in order to free them to manage their own staff and budgets.
• Giving patients the Right to Choose to be treated in any hospital that provides NHS standards of care at NHS costs.
• Providing those treated in a private hospital or clinic that charges more for an operation than the NHS with 50% of the NHS cost as a contribution towards their bill. This will free the NHS to treat more patients more quickly.
We will reform and invest by increasing the NHS budget by £34 billion within five years of taking office – from £1,450 per head to £2,000 a head. Spending will go directly to the front line. Voters have a clear choice on 5 May: dirty hospitals and long waiting lists under Mr Blair and the Lib Dems, or cleaner hospitals and shorter waiting lists with the Conservatives.
Promoted by Gavin Barwell on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 25 Victoria Street, London, SW1H 0DL. Printed by the Conservative Party.

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