Devolution has efficiently divided the National Health Service into four segments, consisting of one each in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively.
Andrew Lansley’s detested Health And Social Care Bill in England, opposed by an overwhelming 62% of voters, has replaced its basis of a democratically accountable healthcare system with a competitive corporate fantasy of free market fundamentalism responsible only for generating obscene profit at the expense of patient care.
In Wales there is a common misconception that we are protected from such grotesque assaults because privatisation has yet to arrive in this country; unfortunately however the NHS in Wales is struggling to stay afloat against greater financial pressures than anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
Savings of £300m are being demanded of the seven health authorities in Wales, or on average 5% of their budgets for the next three years. Four health boards were only able to meet their targets due to additional Welsh Government funding but this support will no longer be offered.
On top of a staggering £1bn of reductions enforced since 2005 under Labour in Westminster, a further £290m has been slashed in 2011-12. Welsh Labour has undertaken a publicity offensive underlining the importance of redesigning health services in Wales but we have lost hundreds of hospital beds from every health board; a recent Royal College of Nursing survey highlighted the growing practice of patients being treated on trolleys in casualty corridors. The number of A&E/casualty units has also been reduced in addition to local district general hospitals getting downgraded, with centres of excellence established as their successors.
In areas of Wales (particularly the South Wales Valleys) heart disease, respiratory illness and mental illness are disturbingly common. A recent report by Cardiff University investigated the connection between poverty and poor health by studying the influence of Britain’s economic downturn on personal welfare, concluding that those who become long-term unemployed enter a cycle of low-paid, insecure employment and are more likely to suffer a notable deterioration in health.
In addition to costing the NHS roughly £50m in the year to April 2011, recruitment freezes have precipitated a chilling crisis in the recruitment and retention of NHS professionals as doctors and nurses migrate to localities paying them more highly, damaging vital services and care provisions in deprived areas.
It is true that health services in Wales are transforming but not in a way reflecting the needs of our people; realistically it serves as a dire warning that we must unite to defeat the destructive austerity agenda before it runs the risk of literally killing off our most vulnerable citizens.