7 Feb 2012

Future of NHS hanging on High Court Scales

My photo of march - used by The Guardian on their website
Here is the Stroud Against the Cuts press release embargoed until this moment - read it here first!

Summary: A Gloucestershire resident takes to the High Court in London, Wednesday February 8th in a bid to stop the transfer of all nine of the county's community hospitals and local health services out of the NHS and into a standalone 'Community Interest Company' (CIC). Gloucestershire health bosses' plans to transfer the county's community health services, including over 3000 NHS nurses, physiotherapists, health visitors and podiatrists (1), out of the NHS in October 2011 have been halted due to the legal action and a campaign in Gloucestershire that has involved thousands of people in protests, public meetings, petitions and fundraising (2). If successful in today's permissive hearing, the case will then proceed to full Judicial Review the following day (Thursday 9th) in the High Court in Aldwych, London.

The case is being taken by Michael Lloyd, 75, a retired railwayman from Stroud, Gloucestershire. Mr Lloyd said: “I'm worried that if local health services leave the NHS they will be more vulnerable to cuts, more fragmented, more bureaucratic and less accountable. Staff tell me they are frightened for their future, and have had no say in leaving they NHS they take pride in working for.”

Solicitors for Mr Lloyd, Leigh Day & Co (2) are bringing a case that NHS Gloucestershire has acted unlawfully by not allowing proper consideration of other options, including those that would keep local health services in the NHS. Rosa Curling of Leigh Day & Co. said: “NHS Gloucestershire had a number of options open to it, some of which would allow the community services in the area to remain provided by a NHS body. They failed to properly consider these options and their subsequent decision to award the contract to the social enterprise company is therefore unlawful.”

Caroline Molloy from local anti-cuts campaigners Stroud Against the Cuts (3), who are supporting Michael Lloyd’s case, said: “NHS bosses are using harmless sounding terms like social enterprise and making baseless claims about their potential benefits. But experience from other areas shows that where social enterprises have taken over services, patient care has suffered due to higher costs, and the need to turn a profit. Even where health social enterprises have been praised, once services have been transferred out of the NHS they have been forced to compete with multinational health companies waiting in the wings, and have been unable to, as in Central Surrey.”(4)

A National Audit Office report last year described health social enterprises (such as CICs) as “a first step towards stimulating a market” in the NHS (5). People across the region remain largely unaware that, even before the passage of the widely opposed Health & Social Care Bill (returning to parliament today), much of the South West's community health services were transferred out of the NHS in October last year.

Dr John Lister of national campaign group Health Emergency said: “It is vital to expose this type of deal to public scrutiny, despite the determination of health bosses to keep them under wraps. It is a scandal that changes like this, which can have a huge effect both on the vulnerable people that use these services, and on the livelihoods of thousands of healthcare workers have been taken behind closed doors.”

Despite assertions to the contrary, John Lister adds “There is no compulsion on health bosses to open these services up to social enterprises or the private sector: in most of England community health services continue to be successfully provided by the NHS, and that's how it should be in Gloucestershire.”

If successful in the court hearing, campaigners pledge to do everything in their power to raise awareness of the situation and force local NHS bosses to listen to the public and keep services in the NHS.

Click read more for 'Notes for editors' and click on label 'NHS' for previous blogs on this issue and here for video of the legal issues discussed at the talk last November in Stroud. You might like to check their twitter site www.twitter.com/StroudAntiCuts for the latest short updates from court on the day or go to the court: http://indymedia.org.uk/en/2012/02/491991.html?c=on#c278732

Don't forget petition -  at time of writing, 250 signatures and counting! If you haven't signed yet please do: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/keep-gloucestershire-s-nhs-public/signatures.html

(1) Without the legal challenge, Stroud General Hospital, Beeches Green health clinic and other community hospitals, health clinics and services in Gloucestershire would have been transferred to a private limited company outside the NHS. The services affected include District Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Specialist Nursing, Out of hours medical and nursing services, Pharmacy, Sexual Health and Chlamydia screening, Podiatry, Dental services, Wheelchair services, Musculo-skeletal services, Telehealth and Specialist Domiciliary care are also to be transferred to Gloucestershire Care Services Community Interest Company. Nine community hospitals (Stroud, Cirencester, Dilke, Fairford, Lydney, Bourton (Moore Cottage), Moreton, Tewkesbury, and the new Vale Hospital in Dursley) and nine health clinics (Beeches Green Stroud, Stonehouse Health Clinic, Cinderford Health Centre, Coleford Health Centre, Lydney Health Centre, Hesters Way Healthy Living Centre, Holts Health Centre Newent, Lydbrook Health Centre, Symn Lane Clinic (Wotton-under-Edge)) are also part of the plans.

(2) For previous press coverage of the public meetings and protest marches, see: http://www.stroudagainstcuts.co.uk/fightback/healthcarecuts/38-healthcare/95-latest-press-coverage.html. A petition begun on Friday 3rd February 2012 already has over 225 signatures, steadily rising, at time of going to press. For the petition text and latest number of signatories see: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/keep-gloucestershire-s-nhs-public.html. An Open Letter from the campaign to the Board of NHS Gloucestershire has been signed by many local District and County Councillors, and other notable local public figures: http://www.stroudagainstcuts.co.uk/fightback/healthcarecuts/38-healthcare/100-an-open-letter-to-the-board-of-nhs-gloucestershire.html.

(3) For more information on Leigh Day see: http://www.leighday.co.uk/Home. Leigh Day & Co is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). The firm's SRA number is 00067679.

(4) Stroud Against the Cuts is a community group formed in November 2010. For more information see: http://www.stroudagainstcuts.co.uk.

(5) In September, Central Surrey Health, a flagship healthcare social enterprise, lost out on a £500 million contract to Assura Medical, a private healthcare company 75% owned by Virgin. See: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8e187d7c-e2cc-11e0-93d9-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz1YaQCdKWz and http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/patrick-butler-cuts-blog/2011/sep/19/social-enterprise-big-society-gets-reality-check.

(6) The National Audit Office report highlighted a number of concerns with health social enterprise, including the “risk that some enterprises will struggle to become self sustaining businesses, for example, being able to attract finance, to react to and withstand variations in demand and to compete in the market place... some pre-Right to Request spin-outs [social enterprises] have been over-optimistic about the amount of extra work they will win in competition. The Department‟s plan is for competition to take its course. Against this background, there has been no assessment of what the failure rate of enterprises will be, [and] how this will impact on the value for money case” (page 7 of the summary document). To read the full report see: http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/1012/the_right_to_request_programme.aspx.

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