GUEST COLUMNIST: More work from fewer people is not a caring NHS

THREE weeks ago the Socialist Party warned that King’s Mill Hospital’s financial crisis threatened patient safety, writes Karen Seymour from the Mansfield Socialist Party.

Days later came news of breast cancer test errors, causing great anxiety to women affected and their families. Why did this remain undetected for six years?

Hospital pathology services have been subject to big changes since Lord Carter’s 2006 report – under the Labour Government. This private health company boss recommended moving from hospital-based laboratories to regional labs, which private companies could bid to run.

Last month, bids went in to run community pathology services right across the Midlands – a contract worth £300million. These blood tests are mostly automated and profitable, so hospitals use them to subsidise complex tests, like cancer diagnosis. Without routine high volume work, hospital laboratories become ‘uneconomic’.

Sherwood Forest has paid Unipart over £1million consultancy fees, introducing ‘lean’ work practices. These may seem to work in car factories cutting out waste, but ever-increasing ‘productivity’ – more work from fewer people – is incompatible with a caring health service.

Health workers face intolerable pressures as patients and treatments become a production-line, with no time to provide individual attention as every patient – or laboratory test – should have.

Add to this, 20 per cent less funding that the Tory/Lib Government is providing for pathology services by 2015; £20billion cuts (given the fancy name ‘efficiency savings’) across the whole NHS.

Then there is the enormous financial pressure of Sherwood Forest Hospitals’ unsustainable PFI payments; and the Modernising Scientific Careers project, changing the way medical laboratory scientists work, of which King’s Mill has been an early adopter – and we can see just some of the pressures building up in laboratories.

There needs to be a local inquiry by health workers’ trade unions, patients and community representatives. The financial books should be opened so we can see where our money has been spent and where private profit is putting more patients’ health at risk.