NHS 'Case for Change' exposed as 'Case for Cuts'

Longley report "discredited" - BMA

"'The Case for Change', in reality, 'the Case for Cuts', should be thrown out and any attempts by the Labour Welsh Government to implement it's recommendations must be fought together by trade unionists and community campaigners linking together on an all- Wales basis." said Ronnie Job, secretary of Swansea Trades Council and a long standing campaigner for the NHS.

Campaigners defeated the plan in 2007

The Welsh Government-commissioned report into shaping NHS services in Wales is becoming increasingly discredited. 'The Case for Change', which calls for centralisation of Welsh NHS services, was supposed to be an independent report. However health campaigners, and socialists have suspected for some time that the outcome of the report was pre-determined and would justify cuts and local closures under the guise of concentrating expertise.

The disclosure that Marcus Longley, the author of 'The Case For Change', was colluding with the Welsh government following a leaked e-mail correspondence between him and senior Welsh government officials will therefore come as no surprise to health campaigners. It blows out of the water the idea that he approached the issue of the organisation of the NHS with an open mind. Clearly the Welsh government picked him to write the report knowing he would reach the 'right' conclusion.

Now the British Medical Association has called the report "discredited". Prof. Longley asked Welsh government officials for "killer facts" to strengthen his argument. The disclosure has echoes of the Blair’s government efforts to ‘sex up' the intelligence dossier arguing for the Iraq War.

This has left the BMA's Welsh Secretary, Dr Richard Lewis, to similar conclusions as health campaigners about the purpose of the report: "We must now question whether this report was published in an attempt to justify plans for service change which were being designed by health boards.

"These revelations call into question the commitment to provide the public in Wales with world class health services. Rather, it could be viewed as a cynical attempt to downgrade quality and access to services by manipulating the opinions of health professionals and the public through a now discredited report".

Longley denies that the government influenced his report and claims that his report was produced "without bias or influence". However it is clear that he and the government both had the same agenda before he wrote the report: to centralise critical hospital services. He merely gathered the facts to support this argument – and the government helped him even though he was meant to be reporting to them.

The truth is that Longley was picked to produce a report that could be used for propaganda purposes to persuade the Welsh public to accept that big reductions in hospital services would be a good thing.

The Labour government was forced to abandon a similar plan to downgrade many district hospitals in 2007 when public opposition to the plans lost Labour its majority in the Assembly elections.

Having won the 2011 elections it has set about preparing the same plan with better PR. Gone are references to 'downgrading' – health minister Lesley Griffiths specifically denies the hospitals are being downgraded even though they clearly are. Professor Longley has been wheeled out to produce what appears to be an objective report and waiting in the wings are other health academics like Tony Jewell to back up the report.

Central to the report is the idea that the current configuration of hospital services is unsustainable and even dangerous. Longley’s argument is that the shortage of medical staff and cash for the NHS means that it is no longer possible to maintain specialist services in district hospitals. It is proposed for example to reduce the number of A&E departments in South Wales serving a population of two million covering an area of 2,300 square miles to just four!

It is true that there is a shortage of both cash and specialist medical staff. The Welsh Labour government has cut spending on health by even more than the Con-Dem UK government. In effect the Welsh NHS has had to empty its pockets to help bail out the banks and pay for the economic crisis initiated by them. The pay of Bob Diamond, discredited boss of Barclays, amounted to over £100 million which is equal to three years of cuts inflicted on Cwm Taf Health Board serving 300,000 people!

And there is a shortage of specialist doctors, especially in Accident and Emergency. But surely staff should be trained to meet the needs of the health service, not shrink the health service to match the number of staff?

It will take some time to train specialist doctors but in the long run the health service should be reconfigured to match the needs of the people of Wales not to match the budget left over after bailing out the banks.

Dave Reid and Ronnie Job

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