Norwich’s Health Service Crisis


Almost every health institution in our city is at breaking point, firefighting increasing demand with fewer resources as the Tories continue their permanent revolution against the very existence of our NHS.

The Norfolk and Norwich is being told to make a total of £22m of savings. We’ve already started to see the real world consequences of that with the false economy closure of the Henderson Unit at Julian Hospital to save £1m. The N&N is already often on red or black alert because beds are occupied by patients who can’t go home until a care package is in place, so it makes no sense to close places like the Henderson Unit.

The local mental health trust is back in special measures for the second time. Disgracefully, there are still increasing numbers of patients dying or causing preventable harm to themselves, too few staff and local beds and, in common with the N&N, lengthening waiting times for treatment.

The recent example of the closure of the private Mundesley mental health hospital shows exactly the grotesque, local consequences of a marketised, financialised system of healthcare. To supposedly save money NHS-run wards were closed in Norwich. The result was local people being sent to a private hospital providing poor care at greater expense than if the NHS had carried on caring for patients at Hellesdon.

Labour took huge strides on health in the General Election manifesto pledging an extra £38billion for health and social care over the first term of a Labour government and parity between physical and mental health. We are promising to reverse privatisation and return our health service into expert public control. But we need to go further.

Even though we’re pledged to integrating services and budgets, Labour still doesn’t have a plan for the comprehensive whole-system approach we really need. As it stands, we’re leaving in place a lot of the apparatus of the internal health market such as the purchaser/provider split with the NHS specified as only the ‘preferred provider’ of services in such a market.

All the evidence shows that competitive markets in public health services don’t improve health outcomes and result in £billions that should be spent on services leaking from the system into ‘transaction costs’, commercial litigation and private profit.

If there’s one thing the neoliberal health experiment of the last thirty years should have taught us, it’s that the whole lot needs to go and only the NHS should provide our health services.

I will push for Labour to adopt as party policy the principles of the NHS Reinstatement Bill including abolishing the purchaser-provider split, ending contracting and re-establishing public bodies and public services accountable to local communities. The principles of that bill have been supported by Jeremy Corbyn and Clive Lewis many times, so I’m in very good company. And Scotland and Wales have already reversed marketisation and restored their NHS, so why not. England can too?

The PFI rip-off is costing the N&N £59million per year and will end up with us paying £1bn for a hospital that only cost £230million to build in the first place. So I’m delighted that Labour has committed itself to ending the scourge of PFI but once again we need to be even more radical than at present.

Our current plan to end PFI is to effectively ‘nationalise’ the PFI debts by compelling the companies that hold them to accept government bonds in exchange for those debts. The problem with that is it doesn’t actually kill PFI as a model of infrastructure investment or deal with the machinery that makes the whole thing possible. We need to take control of the ‘Special Purpose Vehicles’ which channel payments into the private sector – nationalising the assets instead of just the debts.

Finally, any meaningful discussion of the future for the NHS simply has to take into account Brexit. The horror scenario is exiting the customs union and being faced with take it or leave it, World Trade Organisation (WTO) arbitrated, trade deals with the likes of Trump specifying that US corporations get ‘competitive’ access to our NHS.

I will do everything in my power to oppose that possibility. So I fully support the provisions of the NHS Reinstatement Bill which aim to declare the NHS to be a “non-economic service of general interest” and “a service supplied in the exercise of governmental authority,” so Parliament can’t be overruled by the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services.