Public opposition to Labour’s Welsh hospital downgrading confirmed

59% oppose cuts to district general hospitals

A recent poll shows clear opposition to Welsh Labour’s plans to cut hospitals in Wales – despite the claims of the health bosses at the Welsh NHS Confederation.

NHS bosses in Wales are claiming support for their plans to downgrade general hospitals in Wales using a YouGov poll of 1,000 residents of Wales. They want to close services down in a number of hospitals replacing them with treatment in health centres or at home. But the poll actually proves the opposite.

According to the poll 61% said they did not "mind travelling for specialist care if it means the care will be higher quality". The Welsh NHS confederation director, Helen Birtwhistle, claimed this meant support for their idea of downgrading hospitals by shifting services from local general hospitals to regional centres. Clearly the question is loaded – who would be opposed to "higher quality care"?

And what specialist services? The public probably has in mind very select services like neurology. But the Welsh health minster, Lesley Griffiths, and the NHS bosses want basic services like cardiology and maternity, they deem specialist, removed from district hospitals forcing patients to travel miles and miles.

The real feelings of the majority can be seen in the response to another question in the poll, 59% believe their local hospital should provide every type of service an unequivocal response with only 29% opposed. Clearly many people who supported “travelling for specialist care if it means the care will be higher quality” want to keep all services at their local hospital.

Labour is desperately trying to spin the poll to support their hospital downgrading programme, but the opposition of the public is shown in an article on the BBC Wales website that reports how Labour backbench AMs are lobbying Carwyn Jones to drop the plans to downgrade their hospitals. There have also been reports that other cabinet ministers are opposed. Almost certainly this is a reflection of the pressure that AMs are coming under in their constituencies as details of the NHS cuts, previously denied by Labour AMs, start to leak out.

Despite all their protestations to the contrary the NHS bosses plans are largely about cuts. This was admitted by one of the foremost advocates of these changes, Marcus Longley from the University of Glamorgan, who said the NHS bosses had to "persuade the public that this was not about merely saving money".

The cutting of hospital services is an attempt to provide lower quality health treatment on the cheap. Socialists would support more community-based treatment as long as they were properly funded and as long as they were put in place before hospital reconfiguration so as the demand for hospital services fell then services could be reconfigured.

Instead hospital services are being reconfigured before the community services are in place and because the community services are being introduced on the cheap they will fail to keep up with the demands of the community. The reconfiguration is doomed to follow the fate of the under-funded care in the community programme of mental health where vulnerable patients have been left isolated by lack of support in the community.

Already the NHS is struggling before the cuts kick in. In September 33,312 people in Wales had been waiting for six months or more for hospital treatment. This figure is set to soar as the cuts begin to bite and services are cut.

As Socialist Party Wales has explained, there is no way that working people in Wales will accept the cuts to the NHS or Labour’s hospital downgrading plan, which was rejected at the polls in 2007.

Across Wales the Socialist Party is campaigning against NHS cuts and to save hospital services from being "reconfigured" i.e. cut. Thousands have signed our petitions and hundreds of health workers have told us of the cuts: of hospital wards being closed in UHW, the Royal Gwent, St. Woolos, Prince Charles, Royal Glamorgan: the minor injuries being closed at Llwynypia hospital; the Out of Hours service being closed in the Cynon Valley; the threat to the A&E in Royal Glamorgan; hospital workers at the Royal Gwent being forced to buy out of their own pocket materials to clean patients because of the lack of supplies; nurses being underpaid as higher band nurses are encouraged to leave and being replaced by nurses on lower bands… the list is endless.

And everyone knows that it was not the NHS that caused the financial crisis – it was the bankers and the top 1% who continue to receive record bonuses and pay.

Dave Reid

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