Wednesday 5 September 2012

A room with a view: or the privatisation of healthcare in Broken Barnet - Mrs Angry writes to Mike Freer, MP

When the Royal Free Hospital was Free

Amidst the excitement of yesterday's Cabinet reshuffle, and the rather alarming news that Jeremy Hunt has taken over from Andrew Lansley as health secretary, Mrs Angry was thinking about the state of healthcare here in Broken Barnet, already in a state of chaos as a result of government policy and looking ready to become a whole lot worse very quickly. She decided to write to her MP, Mr Mike Freer, who has already blocked her on twitter after daring to challenge his support for the healthcare 'reforms' and the refusal to publish the risk register which might inform us of what we really are letting ourselves in for.

Dear Mr Freer,

I would like to draw your attention to the following report regarding the Royal Free Hospital:

NHS patients 'made to wait' as radiographers are told to set time aside for private treatment

which is published here in the Camden New Journal: as you will see, it seems that radiographers are being told to exclusively reserve one hour a day for private patients, who will receive prioritised access to resources,while NHS patients wait for their turn, as the Royal Free embarks on a programme of opening new private clinics in our NHS hospital.

If you are unaware of the history of the Royal Free Hospital, perhaps you might gather from the clue in the name that it was founded not for the benefit of those who can afford to pay for health care, and enjoy, as they are offered, ' “amazing views of Hampstead Heath or London landmarks”, as well as satellite TV, a remote control, telephone, nurse call facilities and a daily newspaper' ... but in order to provide treatment for those without means. The incorporation of such ideals into a National Health Service has continued, until now, as the right of all of us. No longer, it seems.

former health secretary Lansley receives a less than warm welcome at the Royal Free

In the last year, unfortunately, I have had direct experience of the increasing difficulty of residents of this borough in receiving prompt access to assessment and treatment at our local hospitals at Barnet and the Royal Free.

Earlier in the year I was informed, for example, to my absolute disbelief, that I would have to wait at least a month for an emergency scan, as even high priority scans were being routinely 'rationed'.

I only managed to receive an appointment, at the Royal Free, after weeks of extreme discomfort and anxiety, and a visit to A&E, after my GP here in Finchley went to enormous lengths to bypass the regulations which your government has introduced restricting access to such basic tests.

If this sort of delay is being increased due to private patients being given privileged access to NHS facilities, and receiving care before the long, long queue of NHS patients has been accommodated, I hope that you will agree that this is a totally unacceptable situation.

During the past year a close family member has developed a life changing illness, the diagnosis and treatment of which has been continually delayed, with distressing consequences. Throughout this period we have had to struggle to obtain referrals, and the appropriate tests and treatments, due again to the new bureaucratic regulations which ensure that only patients suspected of terminal illness can be 'fast tracked' to see a local consultant, and seemingly obstruct easy acess to so many tests and assessments as a result of budgetary implications. Only this week, a crucial and complicated procedure at the Royal Free, delayed while the medical team were obliged to apply for special budget funding approval, was cancelled at the last moment, due, we were told, to 'staffing shortage'.

The Catch 22 situation which has been created by such policy makes it impossible to see quite how a GP is supposed to guess how seriously ill a patient is before they have undergone the tests required, and one which places an intolerable burden of responsibility on them.

Recently an elderly family friend died in Barnet General, directly as a result of a prolonged delay in waiting to have the assessment and treatment that would have saved her life: there must be many other cases in which people are dying, or suffering needlessly as a consequence of the rationing of healthcare, and it seems clear this situation is going to worsen as the new 'reforms' are introduced.

Whenever I visit my GPs they are clearly under immense pressure, torn between their professional duty to their patients, and frustrated by the diminishing accessability of proper healthcare in this borough for residents without the means to bypass the NHS system and use private healthcare as an alternative to a failing NHS structure.

They feel betrayed by local Tory politicians who refuse to talk to local practitioners and listen to the huge concerns they have about the impact of government policy on healthcare, and what they see as a direct assault on the NHS.

Yesterday we learnt that responsibility for the NHS 'reforms' has been passed to someone who is reported to have expressed his disdain for our national health system, and considers it to be not as most people would see it, the mark of a society that is dedicated to the support of those with needs, but an anachronism, a white elephant: something to destroy, and rebuild, and break into pieces, to give away to the same sort of private sector companies who are circling this borough, waiting for the commercial opportunities offered by the One Barnet outsourcing madness that is the result of your 'easycouncil' concept'.

I believe that the privatisation of our local council services is an issue which is of immense concern to the residents of this borough, and I know that the destruction and partial privatisation of the health service is a thought which horrifies everyone.

In this area, the effects of change are already having an impact on people's lives, and effectively in this borough now you have a two tier system of healthcare: fast access to care if you are wealthy, or have private cover, and an increasingly more distant chance of speedy treatment if you are without the means to pay.

You are on record as supporting the government's position on the NHS 'reforms', and agreeing that the risk register should not be published. I would suggest to you, Mr Freer, that such a position is completely out of touch with the feelings of almost every resident in your constituency.

Those of us who depend on the NHS, and value the huge contribution to social progress that it has given us see it as something precious, something to be protected, as part of our heritage, and part of what makes us proud of being British.

I wish I could be sure that you agree that the vulnerability of our health service to exploitation by the private sector is something to abhor, something to resist at all costs but I rather think you will hold a different view. I would suggest to you, however, that your own electoral vulnerability might indicate that a misplaced loyalty to government policy on this particular issue would be a grave mistake, and it might be time to see you putting the well being of residents and patients in this area before the interests of your own political agenda.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Angry


To his credit, Mr Freer replied straight away, as follows:

Dear Mrs Angry

Thank you for your email which I have read with interest.

I do not share your analysis and will reiterate that I use the NHS as do my family. As for putting my residents first I would also point out to you that I intervened with the Treasury to lobby that the funds for the new Finchley Memorial Hospital did not fall foul of the spending review.

This government is increasing spending on the NHS, unlike the Labour Party who were committed to cutting the NHS budget.

I do not receive the Camden New Journal and so I can not comment on the accuracy of the report. I would ask you to look at some of those hospitals that have high levels of private income, they use it to enhance and expand NHS services. This of course has now been enshrined in the new Health and Social Care Act. The last Labour Government allowed hospitals to earn private income (indeed they positively embraced private provision farming out many procedures to private hospitals) without any legal provision to ensure the monies earned were used for NHS provision.

Mike Freer
Conservative Member of Parliament for Finchley and Golders Green

Mrs Angry has replied:

Dear Mr Freer

Thank you for your prompt reply.

The level of funding is not the issue here: it is the impact of the introduction of private enterprise into the NHS, and the destabilising effect on the fair provision of healthcare to NHS patients. The question is will government policy improve access to care, or increase delays? The example of the Royal Free using already pressured NHS resources for private patients is in my view a scandalous development and one which as MP for this constituency I hope you will investigate.

As to the Labour policy of relieving the burden on waiting lists by using private hospitals - I personally have no objection to this, as it seems a pragmatic response to a problem. Unfortunately, as I discovered myself, such an option is no longer available to NHS patients, whose interests under a Conservative government clearly come second to the need to open up another market for private enterprise.

Yours sincerely

Mrs Angry


Mr Mustard said...

You are back out of order Mrs Angry having jumped the Freer correspondence queue. Mr Freer promised me an email about One Barnet at least 3 months ago and it hasn't yet arrived.

Mind you, replying to your email is a whole lot easier than explaining One Barnet away.

Jaybird said...

One issue about the introduction of increased private patients into NHS hospitals is access to private rooms/ side bays on wards. Private patients expect this, as opposed to nursing staff allocating these to those most in need. Learning you have a terminal illness or discussing that information with your family is something that best occurs in privacy, not an open ward. Dying in a bay surrounded by other patients lacks dignity and is upsetting for other patients.

Mrs Angry said...

hmm: lots of visits from the Royal Free ... if you are a manager, I am afraid Mrs Angry is fully booked and has probably lost your notes, but please come back in a few months time,if you are still alive, and register for the Broken Barnet Premium service, available as a reasonable fee based service, complete with lovely views and free news coverage.

Mrs Angry said...

well, I am his constituent, as I reminded him, to his visible horror, when we bumped into him at westminster!