Why won’t Cameron come clean on NHS cuts?

David Cameron's PMQ's comments on the NHS are typical of the government's level of denial over the NHS cuts and falling standards, reports Dominic Browne.

Calm down dear, it's only a failing healthcare bill

David Cameron was at it again at Prime Minister’s Questions, insisting that the NHS was not facing cuts. Mr Cameron said:

“There was only one party that at the last election said that it was going to increase the NHS [funding] in real terms, and that is what we are doing.” 
His comments fly in the face of mainstream reporting on the issue of NHS cuts, and also ignores the billions being poured into the government reorganisation – still ongoing despite the so-called pause – that is sapping resources from the service. The NHS has also been badly hit by the VAT rise, and Primary Care Trusts are using back door methods to keep hospitals afloat.

The Guardian has reported rationing of healthcare services in efforts to make cuts targets, stating:

“Services for patients with mental health problems and addictions and those who need physiotherapy after accidents are being scaled back, while operations to fix hernias or remove cataracts or varicose veins are either being refused or delayed.”

Also effected are patients suffering from loss of sight and arthritis. The Guardian also reports that the “first casualties of the cuts”, include mental health, walk-in centres, elective surgery, maternity services, dementia, physiotherapy and addiction.  

Labour’s John Healey, shadow health secretary, has also pointed out that:

“David Cameron is letting the NHS down, and has broken his promise to protect the NHS…, NHS England is in fact facing a real terms cut of £1bn.”

Mr Healey added:

“And if you add in his trick of double-counting social care budgets, David Cameron is cutting the NHS by a massive £1.8bn.”

The Prime Minister also said: “if you look at outpatient waiting times, they fell in the last month”. This is somewhat disingenuous, as NHS waiting times are generally on the way up. In fact in some areas they are the highest they have been for years. The one measure that Cameron quoted to argue that average waiting times were falling – outpatients, recorded as referral to treatment waiting times, adjusted admitted pathways, – has recorded all of a 0.1 week fall in the last month.

This comes after the Public Accounts Committee reported findings today on NHS hospital productivity, warning of the difficulties of making reforms while pushing through efficiency savings. Chair Margaret Hodge  told Radio Four today:

“The financial risks come in two ways, firstly the NHS has to find £20 billion over the next four five years to re-distribute within the NHS that is a heck of a task and if your eye is off the ball of finding these savings because you are worried about where your jobs going to be, which organisation you are going to work for, you wont be as efficient at finding those massive savings. These are the biggest savings ever demanded of the NHS.”

In this atmosphere of worker uncertainty, professional disillusionment, and falling healthcare standards, it is not fair of Cameron and Andrew Lansley to stay in this level of denial.

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