Misguided NHS bosses charged with reforming the health service are planning to close or downgrade 24 casualty departments because they believe that A&E units will see a 30 percent fall in visits in the future, despite the ongoing NHS crisis which has seen demand and overcrowding reach unprecedented levels.
A review of 44 regional NHS plans by the Johnston Press found that managers are planning to close or downgrade 24 causality wards because of an expected 30 percent drop in demand. If downgraded they will become urgent care centres that have a reduced number of specialists and consultants.
The plans have been tabled to help reduce a £22bn hole in NHS finances expected by 2021. Senior doctors say the moves will be disastrous for the health service, which has been struggling to cope after successive funding cuts inflicted by the Tories.
Adding the NHS’s financial woes, the government is also planning to increase business rate taxes on GP services and hospitals by 2021. Some larger hospitals will see their business rates increase by a third under the hike.
Doctors in Unite chair, Dr David Wrigley, said, “In the current climate closing A&E departments down will lead to increased patient suffering and distress due to longer waiting times to see a specialist.
“The Tory government has cut services and funding massively and they are the ones to blame for an NHS on its knees. NHS staff are struggling to care for their patients now and this is a disgrace in a country that is wealthy. The Tories have a lot to answer for.”
NHS bosses insist that the money saving Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STP) that detail the A&E reductions will help save lives by concentrating specialist emergency services together in one location.
The STPs also outline plans to reduce casualty admittances by creating primary care “hubs” that contain GPs and other healthcare staff and by increasing community based care for elderly patients, who are currently disproportionate users of A&E services.
‘Out of touch’
Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said community health and care resources have been decimated by years of austerity and would be unable to compensate for the proposed A&E downgrades and closures.
He argued that the UK’s already overstretched causality departments would be overwhelmed by the pressure the changes would place on them. In January, 780 A&E patients waited more than 12 hours for a bed, compared to 158 during the same month in 2015.
“Grandiose” plans and business tax hikes on health services show the government is wilfully ignoring the damage wreaked by funding cuts, said Jarrett-Thorpe.
“It’s difficult to imagine a government more out of touch with reality when it comes to the state of health services in this country. The NHS, along with social care, is facing an unprecedented crisis and yet instead of trying to remedy the situation there are plans for more closures.
“The idea that A&E demand is going to decline is a serious error of judgement. The government seems to expect that the vital services that could decrease pressures on casualty departments are simply going to appear from thin air,” Jarrett-Thorpe said.
“Magical thinking and grandiose plans for reform ignore the real problem: The NHS has been reduced to breaking point because the Tories have systematically starved it of much needed funds. Then as if this wasn’t bad enough, they want to increase business rates for hospital and GP services already crippled by funding cuts.”
He added, “The government needs to wake up and address these issues, or else the health service, and the millions of people who depend on it, could face irreparable damage.”