NORTH Staffordshire has been rocked by two health bombshells in recent months.
The first is that health chiefs in North Staffordshire are proposing that those classified as ‘hard-of-hearing’ should have to wait until they have ‘severe’ hearing loss before they qualify for free NHS hearing aids under cost cutting plans which blatantly target the older population.
The second bombshell is that these same health chiefs are banding together with the rest of Staffordshire to privatise cancer care and end of life care in the health service’s biggest ever outsourcing of services worth more than £1.2 billion.
Both devastating, unprecedented moves are a first for the National Health Service nationally and represent just the thin end of the wedge for patients throughout the country.
When Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron came to power in 2010 he did so on a manifesto which promised no reorganisation of the NHS. He immediately broke that promise and embarked on an unnecessary and wasteful £3 billion shake up.
This resulted in the creation of GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups which would supposedly buy those NHS services which GPs knew their patients needed. But the reality is that these CCGs are unaccountable bodies charged with cutting NHS services at the expense of those least able to protest.
They have no idea how to run the NHS so they are handing all decision making on cancer and end of life care to private profit-making companies and targeting the older population by cutting free NHS hearing aids.
North Staffordshire CCG held two so-called engagement events over its proposal to end NHS hearing aids for those with low to moderate hearing loss. Both meetings held in Newcastle and Leek were shambolic with those for whom the meetings were primarily designed struggling to hear because ‘caring’ health chiefs could not be bothered to ensure hearing loops were working effectively.
I attended the meeting in Leek at which every attempt was made to limit attendance. First, everyone had to pre register, then the venue was kept secret even though I discovered that rooms had already been booked at the district council offices.
To cap it all, they then emailed some who had registered on the day to say that they could not attend because the venue was full.
At the meeting itself, the CCG would not take questions from the floor and only presented its ‘evidence’ as to why it no longer wanted to fund NHS hearing aids after the meeting.
According to national charity Action on Hearing Loss, two thirds of people over 70 have mild to moderate hearing loss and the sooner those with hearing difficulties receive hearing aids the easier it is to adapt to them, avoiding the isolation, loneliness and mental and wider health problems deafness can bring.
We are facing a national epidemic of loneliness yet this uncaring CCG wants to deprive people of their right to communicate with the outside world. Private hearing aids cost anything from £500 to £3,000 per aid, well out of the reach of most pensioners. If this decision goes ahead it will be clear discrimination against older people.
Virgin, Care UK, Ramsay Health and other private firms are queuing up to bid for Staffordshire’s highly lucrative contract for cancer and end of life care. Our health chiefs are planning to hand over all decision making to these companies asking them to redesign the whole system not just provide a service.
The contracts up for grabs will last 10 years and will put profit not quality of care in the driving seat. Every family in Staffordshire will be affected and it won’t even bring value for money for the taxpayer.
In the U.S., where private companies dominate their insurance-based healthcare system, they have the most expensive health care in the world with one of the lowest life expectancies among developed countries.
How can we hold to account these health chiefs who are putting up our NHS for sale? The Health Secretary and the Department of Health are totally relaxed about who secures these contracts despite them delivering the most sensitive areas of NHS care.
These health chiefs have to present their intentions to Staffordshire County Council’s Healthy Staffordshire Scrutiny Committee on which I sit. But in reality they are a law unto themselves. The Conservatives have succeeded in creating an NHS which can be unpicked piece by piece and sold off. Only a change of Government will halt this process.
Charlotte Atkins sits on the County Council’s Healthy Staffordshire Scrutiny Committee. She was previously a member of the House of Commons Health Select Committee 2005-10.
Article source: http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/Charlotte-Atkins-Hearing-aid-cancer-care/story-21453729-detail/story.html
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