Monday 20 September 2010

Disease And Ill Health To Go Untreated In Hammersmith And Fulham

“There are going to be real failures of delivery. Heart attacks not dealt with, hernias won’t be fixed, hip replacements won’t happen, and psychological care will not be given." So said Dr. Tony Grewal, on the 14th September. He was representing Hammersmith and Fulham’s Local Medical Committee (LMC) at the Borough's Housing, Health and Adult Social Care Select Committee.

Dr. Grewal made the controversial comments during his opening statement about the Coalition Government’s health re-organisation plans detailed on item 5 on this agenda. I twice repeated them back to him to be sure I correctly had taken down what he said. He confirmed that I had.

I was keen to ask Dr. Grewal why he believed these calamities would happen. But the Conservative Committee Chair quickly interrupted and said we needed to hear from Cllr. Joe Carlebach (Con), H&F’s Cabinet Member for Community Care. Cllr. Carlebach fudged the issue telling us that “heath care had always been rationed over the last 40 years and now was no different”. This was a disingenuous point - one which Cllr. Iain Coleman (Lab) skewered saying “this was all the result of a political decision. One made by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats - and one bitterly opposed by the Labour Party.”

Dr. Grewal diplomatically agreed that it was politics that decided the future of the NHS but said “we can’t go out and change the votes of hundreds of thousands of people so I want to see how to make the government’s plans work as I have to do the best by my patients”.

By now we were none the wiser as to why the government’s actions would produce such failures in the our health care. Earlier in the meeting, James Reilly (H&F Council’s Director of Health and Adult Social Care) had responded to questions about the level of objective analysis and evidence base for the government’s claim that its 36% cut to NHS commissioning and support is just “cutting waste”. He said “There isn’t any… and there is therefore risk”. Adding that the approach to this cut was based on a “pretty crude application”.

Dr. Grewal later said he would “refute any notion” that it was the government’s reorganisation plans that would bring about “heart attacks not dealt with…” etc. Was it therefore a lack of funding or what? The Chair was keen to cut all further questioning on what was proving to be an embarrassing matter for the Conservative led government.

By the end of the meeting it was apparent that these changes are being rushed through; that there is a weak approach to managing the evident risk of failure and that the Government's proposals appear to be based on virtually no objective analysis of what the problems are.

Given the dangers we had been told about, I called for the Select Committee to write a non-party political letter to Andrew Lansley MP (Con) - the Health Secretary. I argued that we had a duty to pass on our concerns and do all we can to avoid any failures in local health care. The Tories used their majority to vote this proposal down.

The Labour Opposition will therefore write to Mr. Lansley and we’ll let you know when we get a reply.

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