Monday, 28 February 2011

Safe in their hands?

I’ve lost count of the number of pre-election promises that the Conservative-led government has already broken.

The justification for breaking promises – that the state of the public finances is worse than they expected – simply doesn’t wash. The budget deficit for 2009/2010 was several billion less than forecast and the same is true for 2010/2011.

One important issue that has been given little media attention is David Cameron’s pre-election promise to “protect NHS funding”. We now know that this is another promise that he is going to break.

The first indication was when the government double-counted £1billion for caring for elderly people. First it was announced as ‘extra money for councils to spend on elderly care’ and then it was announced as part of the NHS budget, as part of Cameron’s desperate attempt to make his figures add up.

Now, the government’s own Office of Budget Responsibility has revealed with the latest inflation forecast, there will be an even bigger real terms cut in NHS funds next year. As the NHS struggles with making £20 billion efficiency savings, it is also being forced to spend £3bn on a new top-down re-organisation …. another broken promise.

As local health authorities and hospitals start to struggle with this, we are already beginning to see the real outcomes. It was little surprise that the new government was determined to do away with NHS targets as waiting times for both in-patient and out-patient treatment start to rise for the first time in a decade.

Now we learn that more than 50,000 NHS jobs will be cut over the next 5 years and that the majority of these will be doctors, nurses and other clinical staff. It appears that in the early stages, mental health services are going to be particularly badly hit. In Sheffield, -parents of children with mental health problems have already been told that waiting-times for appointments are rising rapidly.

It was little surprise that people’s confidence in the NHS has risen dramatically over the last 10 years to the highest level ever, given the massive investment in extra clinical staff, new buildings and equipment, with huge drops in waiting times for initial appointment and treatment.

We should all expect those services now to deteriorate and confidence levels start to fall towards those inherited in 1997. Are you confident that the NHS is safe in this government’s hands? I’m not.