January 28, 2014 4.01 pm This story is over 101 months old

NHS: National health means health for all

Our NHS: Kate Taylor argues that outsourcing within the NHS could have a serious effect on patient care.

This week has seen actor and comedian Rufus Hound step up to the political bench to stand for the National Health Action party, a political group created in 2012 to “defend the NHS and its values”. After a healthy span of media attention given to the rising poverty crisis in the UK, the dire straights of the National Health Service has been given centre stage.

Privatisation is the dominating argument in these austere times, and our health service is taking the biggest of cuts in spite of what the government is telling us. Dr Clive Peedall spoke on the Keiser Report recently in which he gave a frank account of what he and his fellow colleagues are seeing within the system. In theory, by letting private organisations and companies barter for government funding we should be able to get the cheapest and best equipment and services for the public’s benefit.

However, we are seeing that instead of this there is an unregulated, unrelenting spree to hand out our tried and tested, nationalised health care to companies with one thing in mind – profit. The government can talk of budget cuts until it goes blue in the face, (or possibly red, party colours have left it all a bit hazy) but the economy is suffering, and so are we, the public.

Quality of care is what directly affects us, and the situation is two fold. On one hand, the government has assisted the media every step of the way in ‘outing’ poor hospital services and the endless headlines on high mortality rates. Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham gave an interview to The Independent earlier this month, and speaks of the Coalition having “political agenda and an ideological agenda underpinning what they are doing.”

Portraying the NHS as an uncaring entity lays down the path for the private sector — and it’s true, there are areas of our health service that are failing, badly. But with millions upon millions of pounds being pulled from under the feet of our most essential services, is it any wonder that the strain becomes too much?

In a report by the Care Quality Commission who inspected Lincoln County Hospital unannounced last year, the results were predictable. Understaffed wards with incredible people working in them non-stop, but precious time that should be spent on patient care was used for filling in endless paperwork that had little relevance to anyone.

Having spoken to several student and recently graduated nurses and doctors, it seems little wonder staff always looked rushed off their feet. One student told me that according to guidelines, when the time is divided up between paperwork and care, ‘officially’ you would have less than 60 seconds with each patient.

I spent a few days in a general ward two years ago and during my bouts of insomnia spent time talking to night staff on the reception desk in their rare moments of peace. They spoke of the “time to care” initiative which you may have seen publicised in corridors around the hospital. It was essentially supposed to be finding ways, however small, to create more patient-orientated time (a particular favourite was saving 20 minutes per day by leaving napkins under cutlery as opposed to folding it round). After they had amassed over an hour, a team meeting delegated how their new time could be spent – the Trust had apparently made several administration staff redundant so the medical staff could now do their work instead.

These staff proudly told me how they had refused, and thus spent the time talking to patients about their treatments, and generally helping them physically, mentally and spiritually. Common sense prevailed. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Time and time again, without denying that it is a complicated, many layered issue, common sense is the only thing that can save our services, and us.

Adversely, there is the ever growing number of contracts being handed out to a variety of private companies. Professor Terence Stephenson made the headlines nearly a year ago speaking of his fears on the new trends in care. He worried that without a unified group, care for patients with complex and terminal illness could become disjointed and information lost as the care is shuffled from pillar to post.

Not to mention the worrying lack of independent regulatory bodies for when these companies fail the public. £1.1 billion: the money for a healthcare contract handed out to private companies providing elderly and end of life care, amongst others, in Cambridgeshire. I ponder just how much Jeremy Hunt haggled the price down on that.

Outsourcing has its place, especially when there is a lack of services that needs filling immediately, but the NHS really is the jewel in this country’s crown and it needs polishing, not replacing with costume jewellery.

Kate Taylor is a sociologist, mother and tea and cake lover. When not working in sociological and marketing research with her company, Galilee Research, Kate can be found talking about political philosophy on the school run.