Great Western Hospital could lose £2 million a year under a new £20 billion efficiency savings bid by the NHS over the next four years.
That is the concern of Swindon Trades Union Council which claims that, while the exact implications of the budget crisis for Swindon are not yet known, new treatment centres which have come on stream could mean Great Western Hospital losing out on £2 million annually.
Swindon TUC Secretary Martin Wicks said the South West Strategic Health Authority – in which Swindon is included – estimates that its share will be between £1.5bn and £2bn and over a six year period it will have to save £9.45bn “in cumulative cash terms”, or 34 per cent on its projected spending.
Mr Wicks said cuts like this will force the Great Western Hospital to start operating more like a business than a service, with patients taking second place to financial considerations.
“The formation of the NHS marked a significant civilising step in a society in which prior to 1948 health provision was a commodity which many could not afford, or for which they had to fall back on charity,” he said.
“Despite its weaknesses the NHS took healthcare out of the market and turned it into a right, available on need regardless of the financial circumstances of a patient.
Thatcher began the process of commercialisation of the service, introducing an ‘internal market’. Prior to its election in 1997 Labour proposed to end the internal market. Instead they introduced a ‘mixed economy of health’ in which trusts and private companies compete with each other.
Foundation Trusts are left to fend for themselves in a war of each against every other. Hence Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has taken out an overdraft facility for £13 million, for which it had to pay £100,000 for two years even if it does not draw on the facility.”
Mr Wicks said he understood the basic premise of the government’s strategy is that competition will improve performance. However, in “abandoning the founding principles of the NHS” they have forced trusts to act more and more like businesses.
He said: “Whilst they have not yet abandoned the provision of service free at the point of use, the fact that trusts have to break even year on year means that the needs of patients are secondary to financial considerations.”
But Lyn Hill-Tout, chief executive of Great Western Hospital’s NHS Foundation Trust said patients at the hospital will never take a backseat because of financial constraints.
“Given current and future problems in the UK economy it is not surprising that the health service, like every other organisation in the public sector, is having to think carefully about how to reduce costs whilst improving quality, safety and patient satisfaction within the funding made available to us,” she said.
“Our focus will continue to be on the quality of care and delivering value for money and our staff work incredibly hard to ensure we provide this. Without their co-operation, hard work and innovation balancing these things would not be possible.”
Ms Hill Tout said the trust recognises that it can’t overcome these challenges alone. It will continue to work with its commissioners, and other health and social care providers, to deliver the best it can for our patients in Swindon and the surrounding areas, and support the PCTs in their efforts to provide patients with greater choice. “However,” she added, “we are working hard to ensure that local people feel confident and proud of their local hospital so they will continue to support us and use our services when they need to.”
See the Swindon TUC Press Release here