Over the next two years Musgrove hospital is required to make savings of £38 million. The savings must be made in response to the hospital’s essential building programme and must be made against a backdrop of falling government funding; the so called ‘tariff deflator’. This essentially means that the amount of money paid for services provided by the hospital is being steadily decreased, this year by 4%. The other threat is so called ‘cherry picking’ made possible by the new commissioning scheme. This means that providers i.e. other private hospitals can bid to do the most profitable types of work. This is strangling Musgrove’s ability to survive in its current state. It is widely felt at Musgrove that there is no more room for efficiency saving without harming patients; something has to give.
So what could this look like to us, the people of this part of Somerset? Options include: –
– A dramatic reduction in elective surgery e.g. hip replacements leading to an increase in waiting times, possibly back to levels seen in the 1990s;
– A cut in the most expensive services e.g. specialised cancer services leading to lengthy journeys for sick people;
– A cut in staff. Already running close to a skeleton service in some areas, further cuts would not only reduce safety but would also damage Taunton’s economy as Musgrove is a major employer in the area.
While the government insists NHS funding has not been cut this is simply not true at the local level. The total health budget may not have decreased but it has been devalued by inflation and the ever-increasing cost of medicine, as drugs become more expensive and our population gets older. The policies of rewarding failure by bailing out trusts that can’t run efficiently and giving subsidies to only those hospitals with the longest waiting times in accident and emergency is the kind of approach that will destroy our well-loved hospital; a hospital that is rated as having the lowest possible risk of harm by the Care Quality Commission, that has the fastest angiography service in the country, that has achieved reductions in deaths from heart attacks and has been one of the country’s leading hospitals in pioneering safety improvements. It is time to wake up and pay attention; once the cuts at our hospital have started they will not stop. The response of our local MP to the imminent threat can only be described as apathetic at best. Along with all his Liberal Democrat colleagues he voted to pass the Health and Social Care Bill, which delivered the biggest reorganisation in the history of the NHS and enabled cherrypicking. And remember, this reorganisation was in the manifesto of neither Coalition partner. Be warned, doing nothing is not an option if we want to retain a thriving hospital.
How do we stop this? We need to see a reinstatement of the Government’s duty to provide comprehensive healthcare; they removed this obligation in the Health & Social Care Act. We also need to see the NHS made preferred provider in order to stop cherrypicking of lucrative work. And we need the Government to be honest about the apparent disparity between the claims of increased NHS funding and the obvious cuts being demanded of our local hospital. If you don’t like it, write to your MP and, at the next election, question the parliamentary candidates closely on what they will do to protect your hospital services from being slashed beyond recognition.