You should never allege in writing that a politician has lied. That will get you into trouble. So I will call the claims of Tory NHS success that David Cameron made in his leaders speech today “deeply disingenuous”. A simple comparison between Cameron’s claims and reality shows why.
Tories have protected the NHS budget. £20 billion of “efficiency savings” (known to most as cuts) and a £3 billion bill for the mess Lansley created. This means hospitals have to cut up to 5% per year from their budget. This can’t be done without hitting frontline services.
Waiting times down. In the first quarter of this financial year 35 trusts missed the 5% waiting less than 4 hours in A&E. This translates to 188,000 people waiting more than 4 hours in those three months. Waits for Hip, Knee, Hernia and Gallstone operations have increased on average by between 7 and 10 days. Monitor has warned that the 18 week GP to hospital referral is becoming increasingly unachievable.
Number of doctors and midwifes up. Yes – marginally. Nurses (which Cameron conspicuously failed to mention) down – substantially. 6000+ nurses lost and more posts being abolished on a weekly basis. This has resulted in nurses not attending ward rounds, patients not receiving timely pain relief, longer shifts etc etc.
Number of managers down. Yes Mr Cameron, if you abolish the organisations that they work in there will be fewer managers! However, as Chris Ham, Chair of the Kings Fund has said, making managers scapegoats is unwise and will result in worse outcomes in the NHS in the long term.
Hospital infection falling. This is a continuation of a very strong inherited trend of declining infection rates since 2008. If anything the rate at which infections are falling has slowed. It is also worth noting that privately run hospitals are showing themselves to be particularly susceptible to hospital infection outbreaks.
Cancer Drugs Fund has benefitted patients. This was Cameron’s big claim of Tory success in the NHS. First, we should note that the £200 million, the amount spent on the drugs fund, is small in comparison to the £20 billion being stripped out the NHS. Second, the Cancer Drugs Fund is a way of making less effective and more expensive drugs available on the NHS and breaking the control that NICE has exercised over NHS drug costs. For each patient treated through this fund 10, 100 or in some case 1000 patients could have been treated with more effective and less expensive conventional treatments. Simply put the Cancer Drugs Fund ensures the NHS gets less “health” for the money it spends. Cameron recounted a conversation with a cancer sufferer who supported the fund, but failed to recount any of the conversations with big pharma executives who pushed hard for this and view it as the first step to making more money out of the NHS. There is no English political jargon that summarises this waste, but the Americans have one: “pork barrelled spending”.
The distance between government claims and reality is notable. Nowhere is this truer than on the NHS. No doubt the sensible and balanced views Jeremy “safe hands” Hunt will narrow this divide! Or not.