Monday, 5 December 2016

Are N.H.S. services in Greater Manchester safe with Andy Burnham?

'Doe-eyed' - Andy Burnham

Andy Burnham, who is standing as a candidate in the Greater Manchester mayoral elections, was recently described by one newspaper columnist, as ‘doe-eyed’ and a cross between ‘Paul McCartney’ and a ‘Thunderbird puppet’. Last week, Andy, the Member of Parliament for Leigh, was on the stump in Ashton-under-Lyne, where he was billed to be speaking at a public meeting on ‘Health and Well-being, at Clarendon Sixth Form College.

While the event was free to attend, and was advertised on ‘’, it was not widely advertised or easy to register and many of the people who were attending the event, told me that they were Labour Party members who had received invitations to attend the meeting. Despite assurances from a Labour functionary, wearing a red tie, that it was indeed a public meeting, a Tameside councillor, told me that it was by invitation only.  

By all accounts, the event turned out to be less a “Policy Development Conference on Health and Well-being” and more an Andy Burnham roadshow. A health professional, who managed to attend the meeting, who is also a Labour Party member, told NV that the event was a ‘missed opportunity’ and a ‘waste of time’. Seemingly, proposals to integrate health and social care in Tameside and across Greater Manchester, “the first properly integrated National Health and Care Service”, which Burnham supports, were presented as a shining light within Greater Manchester.

While the public are told that Andy Burnham is keen to involve the public in developing policies that “will make a real and meaningful difference to people’s lives”, this turned out to be even more bullshit. According to our health professional, the people in charge of the meeting were not interested in talking about the massive bed cuts at Tameside Hospital, low staffing levels, or how tax-payers’ money is being wasted. Neither had they much to say about the fate of the N.H.S. Instead, all the speakers focused on how Andy Burnham’s career as a Labour politician, had been full of dedication to the well-being of the great British public.

Although I think that integrating health and social care could be an excellent idea, the thought of out-of-their-depth, ten-bob councillors, in Greater Manchester, having greater control over N.H.S spending and health care in the region, is something that fills me with abject horror. In 2013, the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), said that Labour dominated councils like Manchester, Salford and Tameside, were at risk of becoming the equivalent of ‘one party states’ like North Korea, China or Cuba.

Last month, Sir Richard Leese, the Labour leader of Manchester City Council- a council where almost all the council seats are filled by Labour - speaking about DevoManc, told an audience at the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisations (G.M.C.V.O) A.G.M, that he wanted to see ward and hospital closures across Greater Manchester, including Tameside. He believes that many people who are currently in hospital, need not be there and that their needs could be better met in other ways. 

However, as part of the ‘Devolution’ agreement, the government have made it a condition that all the ten council’s in Greater Manchester, develop ‘new care models’ between now and 2020, to receive the £450 million, ‘Transformation’ fund monies agreed in the devolution agreement. Mr Leese also believes that it is the role of voluntary organisations, to “fill in the holes”, left by public service cuts.

Already, Tameside Hospital have confirmed that they are planning to close 246 beds at the hospital by 2020 and claim that this can be compensated for by the creation of five local multidisciplinary care teams. Moreover, care services are steadily being privatised - CareUK have recently been given a five-year contract for musculoskeletal services in Tameside. Nationally, some 200 N.H.S care services have also been handed over to the billionaire tax exile, Richard Branson.

Milton Peña, a retired consultant orthopaedic surgeon, who worked at Tameside Hospital for seventeen-years, told a public meeting held in Stalybridge in September:

“Such a massive reduction in bed capacity will lead to a drastic deterioration in quality of care of patients in Tameside and Glossop. Safety, effectiveness and patient experience, will be significantly affected.”

Some people are rightly suspicious about the notion of “integrated care” believing it to be a cover for cuts, deprofessionalization and the downgrading of N.H.S services. They question how private companies can provide a high standard of health and social care while making profits and point out that this is often done, at the expense of cutting staff and working conditions.

Although, Andy Burnham, failed to explain how ‘integration’ will improve health and social care, some sceptic’s in the ‘Tameside Keep our N.H.S Public’ group, believe that Labour in Manchester, have:

“swallowed hook, line and sinker current government ideology that believes publicly funded and provided health and social care services should be severely reduced, leaving a ‘safety net’ for the deserving poor, for whom no alternative is possible.”

As they point out, this would mean most of us paying for services or taking out private health insurance as is the case in America, where failure to pay medical bills, is the main cause of middle-class bankruptcy in the United States.

As a candidate for Mayor, Andy Burnham, should tell the electorate whether he agrees or disagrees with Sir Richard Leese in wanting ward and hospital closures across Greater Manchester and how “integration”, will improve health and social care.

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