NHS needs emergency care if we are to halt the inexorable shift towards privatisation

Royal Sussex County Hospital
Royal Sussex County Hospital

I found myself spending three days in the accident and emergency unit of the Royal Sussex County Hospital.

I found myself spending three days in the accident and emergency unit of the Royal Sussex County Hospital. The treatment from medical staff was second to none, but what I was seeing is privatisation by stealth.

Unlike in the United States, you do not first have to produce your credit card before being admitted. How long is that going to last?

It is proposed that "immigrants" who pay taxes will be charged. Once you accept scapegoating, the principle has been conceded. The Conservative-led government introduced further "reforms" into the NHS - the intention of which was to increase "competition".

It was Tony Blair who first introduced "choice" - with scandals such as Stafford the result. "Savings" and privatisation kills people.

The Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust recently appointed a new chief executive, Matthew Kershaw - at a wage of £180,000 - who in Lewisham, with Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, suffered a legal defeat when appeal court judges ruled he had acted illegally in cutting AandE and maternity services at Lewisham Hospital in southeast London. More than 25,000 took part in the campaign.

A hospital is nothing without its cleaners, kitchen staff and porters.

They were transferred from the NHS to Sodexo last year and have been told that their legal rights to the same terms and conditions are void. Sodexo have consistently failed to pay staff the right amounts and on time. The porters who take patients for scans and so on are losing on average £20 a week.

Privatisation of cleaning led directly to MRSA as cleaners took short cuts. Sodexo food is appalling and not fit for your pet. Yet nutrition is essential for recovery. Equipment is always out of action.

Sodexo is a French multinational with £12 billion revenue in 2010. With an annual budget of £109 billion (in 2012-2013), the NHS represents a massive “cash-cow”.

Since the Health and Social Care Act became law, more than £11 billion of services have been transferred to the private sector. Well over 100 private companies are involved, many with no prior experience. All the scandals regarding care of the elderly will inevitably be repeated. A leaked government referred to £20 billion of services up for grabs.

I received a "Patient Viewpoint" questionnaire; so I asked a few questions of my own. Sodexo staff did not want to talk. They had been personally written to and told to keep quiet. When I promised anonymity, however, they poured their hearts out: wages not paid on time and too low; cheating on overtime pay; broken equipment. The list was endless.

Sodexo’s first act was to try to make 90 staff redundant. That failed. Ambulance workers are next. Hundreds of staff in Brighton and Hove have already lost their jobs or had their contracts changed.

Rather than the closure of entire hospitals - not yet anyway - or departments such as AandE or maternity, plans are being executed and drawn up to privatise, dismantle, or move NHS services out of Brighton and Hove.

Audiology services and wheelchair provision are now supplied by Specsavers and other companies. Southlands Hospital in Worthing has been closed. Eastbourne District General Hospital has lost its maternity department. South East Coast ambulance service call centre is run by Harmoni, implicated in many failures round the country.

Brighton and Hove has one of the highest levels of closure of mental health beds in the country. The trust has done a deal with Care UK to “double beds” for Brighton and Hove residents...in Gosport and Horsham.

The trust plans to outsource renal services; neurosciences and trauma in Haywards Heath could be closed. This could mean the loss of neurovascular services, which means the closest service for Brighton and Hove residents would be in London or Southampton.

Despite the denials of Mr Kershaw, a plan for out-sourcing hospital security and reception is being drafted. The outpatients’ pharmacy is to be formed into a separately registered company. Ultrasound services, physiotherapy, Integrated dermatology services, Brighton and Hove Council Health and Well-being Board, and substance misuse service are to be put out to procurement.

Sexual health (Claud Nicol Centre) is going out to tender. This service works closely with the HIV Aids service. There are serious fears for the future of this service if sexual health is hived off. The Stop Smoking Services in Brighton and Hove, and West and East Sussex, have already been put out to tender.

All the major political parties - even, it would seem, Brighton’s Green Party - see privatisation as beneficial when the evidence is the opposite.

A private company will inevitably see making a profit as a priority - by cutting the pay of staff.