Sunday, 30 November 2014

NHS crisis is government created

It is increasingly difficult to see a coherent government strategy for the economy.  Dealing with the deficit has now given way to 'doing whatever is politically expedient to win the next general election'. The NHS is high in list of voters' concerns.

The 'extra' £2 billion for the NHS announced today in the Chancellor's autumn statement is welcome. But it is too little and very late. The government has been warned over the past four years of cuts that the NHS is 'on a precipice' and would have difficulty meeting needs. Mr Cameron promised that the NHS would be 'ring fenced' and protected from the cuts, but so-called efficiency savings have eaten into NHS budgets to the tune of £20 billion.

Responding to the announcement today by the chancellor that NHS services are to receive £2 billion in extra funding, BMA Council Chair, Dr Mark Porter said:

“There is little doubt that the NHS is under unprecedented pressure from a combination of rising patient demand and contracting budgets. Doctors and other healthcare professionals are working hard to deliver first rate patient care to the public, but they are being undermined by a lack of resources and staff."

The BMA has also welcomed the designated investment in GP services.

“The chancellor’s announcement that more funding will be allocated to the NHS is an encouraging step forward as it does appear that politicians of all parties are starting to get the message about the dire state of the NHS finances. We are particularly pleased that policymakers have listened to the BMA and confirmed that £250 million will be allocated annually for the next four years to invest in GP premises and out of hospital infrastructure.  Many GP facilities have been starved of investment for decades with the result that a number of GP practices are too small and inadequate to cope with the number of patients coming through the surgery door."

But the crisis in the NHS is more than simply funding.  It is a crisis created by the government. We  recall the promise that there would be no 'top down' extensive reorganisation of the health service. Yet this is exactly what has happened against advice of doctors' bodies such as the BMA. This has put an extra pressure on scarce front line resources.  The reorganisation was senseless and unnecessary particularly in a time of recession.

There have been more than 38,000 'exit packages'  for NHS managers agreed since 'reforms' began. Yet some 4,000 of those  have been  rehired.  There is something ludicrous about managers taking lucrative redundancy deals only then to be recruited once more as consultants! The cost of redundancy payments for NHS managers has hit almost £1.6bn since the coalition came to power. The government's handling of the NHS has been at best inept.

As Mark Porter warns

“Despite this announcement, the NHS continues to face a number of challenges, with staff shortages, especially in emergency care, remaining a cause of concern.  We need this announcement to be the start of a long term programme of investment in the NHS that is backed by all policymakers so that patients continue to get the care they deserve and need.”

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Beware UKIP education policies

Imagine a National Health Service that had selection criteria on the basis  'we will only treat certain people we regard as worth saving'.  Now imagine a state school system based on the premise that only advantaged children will go to the 'good' schools.  Now take a look at this statement:

'Existing schools will be allowed to apply to become grammar schools and select according to ability and aptitude. Selection ages will be flexible and determined by the school in consultation with the local authority.'

The result of such a strategy would be to entrench a two tier system in our state schools. The 'good' schools will select on 'academic ability'. We have of course been here before in the old system of  Grammar and Secondary Modern Schools. Some might argue that it is as good idea because it ensures a good education for the brightest pupils. It will condemn those deemed less academically gifted to second rate schools.

You will note that the policy as stated doesn't say 'we will ensure that ALL pupils have the opportunity for education at the highest standards. It simply wants to restore the old system. It does say that selection ages will be flexible. But does anyone doubt that most selection will take place at 11? Of course it will, because that is the age at which most pupils move to secondary education.

It is extraordinarily silly to take a day in the life of a child at aged 11 and on that date determine their 'aptitude'.  Children develop at different rates not just in intellectual ability and understanding but in maturity. That is what was so wrong-headed about selection at 11.

New statistics released by Buckinghamshire Grammar Schools, the body which represents the county’s 13 selective schools is very instructive. It shows that only 16% of children from Aylesbury Vale – Bucks’ poorest district – passed the test, compared to 37% in the Chilterns – the county’s richest. There was a 64% pass rate for children in private education and only 4% for children on free school meals. Do we really think this reflects their true learning potential? Or do we suppose it reflects a pre-existing social and economic advantage?  I know which of these is likely to be the answer.

To push for Grammar Schools and selection on grounds of 'ability' will simply entrench  inequality of opportunities. It entrenches unfairness which affects the life chances of a generation.

So whose policy does this article give. You might assume it gives the Conservative Party policy. It doesn't. It gives UKIPs policy on secondary education.

It is often difficult to pin UKIP down on policy details. This one however is entrenched on the UKIP website under the heading 'What a UKIP government will do.'

UKIP will entrench the unfairness that exists in educational opportunities for our children and thus their life chances.