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January 3, 2012 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

Bill Esterson


The Tory-Lib Dem government plans to privatise half the beds in our hospitals. At the same time the government has forced councils to massively increase the charges for care services. These two government policies are linked of course as if there are not enough NHS beds, other patients will be forced to be treated at home, where they will have to pay for care that is free in hospital. It is clear that under the Tory-Lib Dem government, patients are going to have to pay for their treatment, that is assuming they can afford to pay. In America, many people cannot afford health care and simply go without. It looks like the Tories and their Lib Dem friends plan an American style private health system here.

According to the government announcement, up to half of 160,000 NHS beds could be turned over to private patients.Ministers have been forced to reveal their private ambitions for the NHS, which will create American-style hospitals in England.
Tory Prime Minister, David Cameron wants to turn NHS hospitals into private businesses, pitting one against another in a competitive market, with the aim being to make money for shareholders, rather than focus on patient care as the priority.

The Government is going to let NHS hospitals give up to 50% of their beds and theatre time to private patients. The last Labour government had strict rules on the amount of private use of NHS hospitals but these rules will be scrapped by the Tories and Lib-Dems under the latest plans.

The free-market plan will give patients and the public the clearest sign yet of how the character of England's NHS will change if the Government's Bill gets through Parliament in early 2012. It will open the door to an explosion of private work in NHS hospitals.

Labour believes that this plan - coupled with other measures in the Health Bill - will result in longer waiting lists for NHS patients. The Government's relaxation of NHS waiting time targets means hospitals are free to devote more theatre time to private patients. Hospitals will have a clear incentive to sell to private patients and maximise income, with the move to full financial independence and a "no bail-outs" culture where hospitals in financial trouble are allowed to go bust with no Government help.

It is a decisive move away from Labour's planned NHS system where NHS patients were always the priority. The message sent out to hospitals and health service managers by the 50% cap is that private patients can be given equal priority.

This surprise move, sneaked out just before Christmas, is the clearest sign yet of David Cameron's determination to turn our precious NHS into a US-style commercial system, where hospitals are more interested in profits than people.
With NHS hospitals able to devote half of their beds to private patients, our hospitals will never be the same again if Cameron's Health Bill gets through Parliament.
This free-market NHS re-organisation opens the door to an explosion of private work in the NHS, meaning longer waits for NHS patients. It takes us straight back to the bad old days of the Tory NHS, when the only choice patients had was to wait longer or pay to go private. 

A new survey of care provided by local councils, reveals shocking increases and wide disparities in charges for services for vulnerable elderly and disabled people.

Because of massive cuts by the government, Councils are increasing charges for:
- home care: the average hourly charge is now £13.49, a rise of 6% since 2009/10
- meals on wheels: the average charge is now £3.44 per meal, a rise of 13%
- transport: for example to day centres: the average charge for a journey is now £2.32, a rise of 33%

These increases mean the average yearly cost for an older or disabled person who pays for 10 hours of home care a week is now £7,015 a year.

Older or disabled people who also get meals on wheels every day now pay an average of £8,271 a year.

With transport charges to go to a day centre three times a week an older or disabled person now pays £8,633 per year.

There are huge differences in the price people pay for care, depending on where they live. This ranges from free home care in Tower Hamlets to care costing £20.34 per hour in Cheshire East. This means an older or disabled person in Cheshire East receiving 10 hours of care per week could be liable for charges up to £10,577 per year when they would receive free home care in Tower Hamlets.

Some councils limit the weekly costs people are required to pay, ranging from a cap of £105 per week in Hackney to £900 per week in Brighton and Hove.

Four out of 10 Councils who had a cap in 2009/10 have increased it, and another four out of ten have abolished caps on charges altogether, leaving people to face all the costs of their care.

The survey also indicates that the number of vulnerable older and disabled people receiving services free of charge has dropped significantly, by more than 15 percent since 2009/10.

These increases in home care charges for older and disabled people are a stealth tax on the most vulnerable people in society.

More people are having to pay more for vital services such as help getting up, washed and dressed, meals on wheels, and transport to day centres. These services are a lifeline for older and disabled people and are crucial in helping them live independently in their own homes.

And the huge variations in the costs of care across the country mean elderly and disabled people face a post-code lottery, through no fault of their own.

The Conservative-led Government is out of touch with the growing crisis in care.

Their brutal cuts to funding for local council services for older people - £1.3 billion already this Parliament - are pushing up charges and placing an even greater burden on the people who most need help.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron should act urgently to tackle the care crisis now. And he must engage in serious cross party talks about how we can secure a fair and sustainable way to fund social care in the future.

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