Special Guest Blog from Julie Wassmer

No cause for celebration for our NHS

nhs march(1)The NHS is under pressure. Figures from the National Audit Office show the income of NHS trusts “has not kept pace with growth in spending” but the government claims it’s putting an extra £10 billion into the NHS.  Where does all our NHS money go?

A year ago, at a public meeting in Whitstable, I heard GP, Dr Coral Jones, explain to residents about the 44 Sustainability Transformation Plans (STPs) that had been put in place by the government to look for “efficiency savings”.

Campaigners were already asking why these plans for significant changes to patient care were being hidden from public view. One such campaigner, writer Diane Langford, had begun researching our own Kent STP only to find herself facing a wall of STP obfuscation, acronyms and “biz-speak”.

I teamed up with Diane and learned that a private consultancy, Carnall Farrar, had been contracted to work on our local Kent STP. Although NHS Trusts are obliged to publish payments over £25,000 which they make in any one month, no payments were logged on the trust’s website for Carnall Farrar. In fact, it took a year of submitting countless Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, coupled with help from the research organisation Spinwatch, before Diane and I were to discover just how much had been paid to the firm – and by whom…

Dame Ruth Carnall had become the “Independent” chair of our local STP’s Programme Board but her own company stood to profit from its work on the STP, so I asked Julian Brazier, (my MP at the time) to investigate this potential conflict of interest. I found him to be unequivocally supportive of the STP and defensive of Ruth Carnall’s involvement, but he did unwittingly open up a line of communication for me with Glenn Douglas, then Chief Executive of the Kent & Medway NHS Trust, who offered me a meeting which I took up with Diane on Dec 7th last year.

At the trust’s offices in Maidstone, Diane and I confronted senior executives, Glenn Douglas and Michael Ridgwell (then Programme Director of the Kent & Medway STP) with our findings – the trust had actually paid Carnall Farrar £6,051,199 – a staggering sum of local Kent NHS funding diverted to a single private consultancy.

I also cited the fact that Dame Ruth Carnall had been named by the Sunday Telegraph as one of the 660 NHS “Fat Cats” who, in 2011, had been earning more than the Prime Minister (in Carnall’s case, a tidy salary of £277,500)  before she left the NHS to start up Carnall Farrar. Glenn Douglas also appeared on the same list – earning £200,200 at that time and when I mentioned this at our meeting, he responded: “Shall I let you into a little secret? I still am”.

How many of us believe that the kind of 6 figure salary routinely earned in the private sector is appropriate for a health executive within a cash-strapped public service, in which nurses and junior doctors are having to fight for decent pay, conditions and bursaries for training?

And could Carnall Farrar’s work on the STP possibly justify the millions it has been paid of our local NHS money? How many more millions have been drained away from frontline NHS patient services across the UK to pay private consultancies working on 44 STPs – ironically, to find cuts?

Carnall Farrar’s work in London is characterised by the reorganisation of stroke services – which the company have also proposed here in Kent – principally by closing the stroke service at QEQM Hospital in Margate. But recently I read a letter sent to the Stroke Review Committee at the Kent & Medway STP by the campaign group, Save Our NHS in Kent (SONIK), requesting a “withdrawal of those costly proposals due to procedural flaws within the consultation process.”

Meanwhile, another campaign group, CHEK, (Concern for Health in East Kent) which seeks reinstatement of A & E services at Kent and Canterbury Hospital, is supporting a proposal from local property developer, Mark Quinn, to build a completely new hospital “shell” in return for permission for this developer to build 2,000 houses in the area. This deal would surely be far more lucrative for Quinn than our NHS Trust – which would have to find £250 million just to equip this “shell”. As one resident wrote, it’s like replacing an old car that doesn’t work properly with a new one with no engine…

 Of Mr Quinn, a Conservative party donor, Diane Langford comments: “He stands to net hundreds of millions from the arrangement while his contribution to the building and kitting out of this shell would be relatively miniscule. In effect, he would be profiting at the expense of publicly owned assets, with Kent County Council handing over a swathe of valuable land adjacent to the existing hospital, while the latter would be allowed to languish due to lack of resource.”  Diane claims she tried to make this point at a recent CHEK meeting only to have been silenced by CHEK’S chair, Ken Rogers. “Unfortunate”, she says, “that CHEK’s mission seems to have been diverted by this questionable offer from a developer.”

Amongst all this, the recent announcement of a new medical school, a joint venture between Christ Church University and Kent University, should be welcome news, judging by the joyful reactions of Faversham MP Helen Whately, North Kent’s Roger Gale, former Canterbury MP Julian Brazier – and his Labour successor Rosie Duffield.

Newly emerged from the revolving doors of the NHS executive system as Chief Executive of the Kent and Medway STP, Glenn Douglas claims that a local medical school “is known to provide an essential boost to recruitment and retention,” but a footnote in the university’s press release makes clear that medical students will not be going straight into local hospital roles at all, but into primary care, such as GP services.

Therefore, perhaps the last word should rightly go to GP, Dr Coral Jones, who tells me:  “The decision to open a new medical school was down to Health Education England and the excellent proposal from the Canterbury universities. Tory MPs like Helen Whately, and Sir Roger Gale who supports the closure of the QEQM stroke service, should certainly not be congratulating themselves on this development. Students won’t begin studying until 2020, and any gains will not be seen for several years. In the meantime people continue to die due to this government’s NHS and social services cuts. There is little cause for celebration.”

A rally will be hosted by Save Our NHS in Kent on Sunday April 8th in Margate Old Town from noon onwards. All welcome.

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Julie Wassmer is an author and campaigner. Her crime novels are set in Whitstable, where she’s lived for 20 years. Photo by Jon Eldude

www.juliewassmer.com

NB This article was originally submitted to (but not published by) the Canterbury Journal.

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Useful Links

Petition for signing:

https://www.change.org/p/save-our-stroke-service-at-qeqm-margate-hospital

Save Our Stroke Unit Rally – Sunday 8th April 2018:-

https://www.facebook.com/events/366780037153885/

Stroke survivor praises QEQM team who treated him and explains why the move of stroke services from Margate would “cost lives”: https://www.facebook.com/SaveOurNHSKent/videos/1028003467339232/

Stroke Service at QEQM: Resident tells public meeting: Don’t close it, improve it!:

https://www.facebook.com/SaveOurNHSKent/videos/1025922574213988/

GP, Dr Tim Winch, condemns lack of evidence for Kent stroke plans:

https://www.facebook.com/SaveOurNHSKent/videos/1023674427772136/

Carly Jeffery of SONIK speaking at the Stroke STP 24 March:

https://www.facebook.com/SaveOurNHSKent/videos/1023707641102148/

About STPs

http://www.patients4nhs.org.uk/?s=stp

Link to Sunday Telegraph “NHS Fat Cat Earners” article from 2011 showing Ruth Carnall at No 3 (earning £277,500)  and Glenn Douglas at No 43 on £200,200.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/8485539/Named-the-highest-NHS-fat-cat-earners.html

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