The Human Cost of NHS Cuts in Cornwall: The Permanent NHS Crisis and Stratton MIU Nighttime Closure

By the Chair of Bude Labour Party (as mentioned, other local political parties are also very welcome to submit articles, as is anyone with a view to share).

2018 saw the 70th Birthday of the NHS, but barely three weeks ago we heard that Stratton Minor Injuries Unit was to be temporarily closed at night time. Local people were quite rightly concerned at the closure. Our local LibDem Cornwall Councillors were ‘angered and disappointed’ at the decision, and we in Labour were suspicious that this ‘temporary’ closure was part of a wider agenda to permanently close Stratton MIU, a strategy employed in Devon and other areas of England.

It soon became clear, however, that this local closure is a result of the Nursing Recruitment Crisis and ongoing cuts. You might recall how January 2018 began with stories of ambulances queuing outside A&E departments and patients on trollies lined up in hospital corridors. The NHS is now in a permanent crisis generated by the political choices of the present Conservative and previous Coalition government, and the ‘temporary’ closure of our local health services is an outcome of an agenda undermining a service designed to care for us all.

Nurses have had a seven year wage freeze (resulting in a 14% real terms fall in income), student bursaries have been capped, and staff are suffering high levels of stress due to increased workload. More nurses and midwives are leaving the profession than joining. The Royal College of Nursing estimates a shortage of 40,000 nurses.

This situation is a direct result of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act pushed through by the then Conservative and LibDem Coalition Government, which reorganised the NHS into non-accountable bodies given tight financial constraints, and removed the government’s duty to provide comprehensive health care. This meant government politicians could now deny all responsibility for cuts made by NHS managers operating under the conditions Conservatives and LibDems originally created. Every decision has been based not on the needs of patients and communities, but on the requirement to save money through reducing staff costs and cutting services.

Reducing staff costs is achieved by downskilling the workforce so that health care assistants take on duties previously filled by highly qualified nurses, and cutting services means shifting care towards private providers and away from our hospitals (resulting in the shutting of local hospitals essential to rural constituencies like our own).

There is a human cost at every level of this crisis. In the first seven weeks of 2018, 10,000 more people died compared to previous years, but there was no flu epidemic or extreme weather during January or February. Life expectancy is rising throughout the world, but falling in the UK. Local nurses we spoke to in thelast few weeks expressed feelings of frustration and regret that they can no longer cover the gaping holes left by these austerity cuts. They feel responsible even when they are not.

Staff at Stratton MIU have been struggling to maintain a 24 hour service, there has been an advertised vacancy for another nurse for months, but the recruitment crisis, combined with uncertainty generated by this government’s bungling of Brexit, has prevented them from filling the post from either local or overseas qualified staff. Years of government mismanagement and cuts have produced fewer staff, less care, closed beds, and closed hospitals.

In 1948, in the aftermath of war and national bankruptcy, a Labour government found the resources to create the NHS – our proudest achievement providing universal healthcare for all on the basis of need, free at the point of use. Be in no doubt that Labour will repeal the 2012 Act that has vandalised our NHS and we will provide the NHS with an extra £37 billion funded through an increased income tax on the highest 5% of earners and increasing tax on private medical insurance. We will re-introduce bursaries for health-related degrees, we will give our NHS workers the pay they deserve and guarantee the rights of EU staff working in our hospitals.

Hospitals such as Stratton MIU will be fully staffed and decisions about them will be made on the basis of local need. As it moves into its 71 st year, the NHS needs a change of policy and ethos. It needs a change of government.

And finally, some good news: Bude Young People’s Foyer

Last month I reported on the threatened demolition of Bude Young People’s Foyer (purpose-built for young homeless people), and its proposed replacement with luxury flats. The housing association with responsibility for the building has responded by reviewing the situation and is now planning to reopen it as residential flats for people who have been homeless or in supported accommodation. While we are very pleased with this decision, we will keep a close eye on developments to ensure that this does happen.

Bude Foyer

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