By the end of next year the Government hope to have made a radical change to our National Health Service. It is called Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) and in Kent it will be executed by a powerful Strategic Commissioner, with health practitioners being allowed only an advisory role.
The basic premise of STP is that we should reduce bed occupancy in acute general hospitals by making people more dependent for their own health care in their own homes. In the Labour Party we fear that financial pressures will reduce the options available to vulnerable people, whilst the continuing real term cuts to social care will make it undeliverable.
We also fear that behind STP is a wish to commission out fashionable and potentially lucrative parts of the NHS to private providers, including many from the USA. The Prime Minister’s evasive answer to this in the House of Commons rather supports our fear. What might be left behind is a number of struggling services like mental health, desperate for adequate finance and resourcing.
Even if some do not share our Labour misgivings, it is important that local people are properly informed, engaged and consulted in this historic change of direction. They are not. Small highly stage managed consultation meetings have been held but the public as a whole are being kept in the dark. It is impossible for elderly people who do not have internet access to be properly engaged.
It is frankly impossible to disentangle this process from the funding crisis in the Health Service. It is tiresome hearing the Health Minister, who is incidentally making it easy for himself to sell off NHS property, boasting about increases in funding when those increases never meet the growth in demand. We have an ageing population and vast improvements in medical technology. As a country we have to face the fact that we spend a much smaller proportion of our National wealth (GDP) on health and social care than other European Union countries. The gap was closed under the Blair government but it has widened ever since. The future looks bright for the few, but not for the many.