Doctor launches attack on NHS cutbacks

A DOCTOR launched a stinging attack on the cash-strapped NHS in Suffolk last night, saying "draconian" cutbacks could put traditional healthcare under threat.

By Sarah Chambers

A DOCTOR launched a stinging attack on the cash-strapped NHS in Suffolk last night, saying "draconian" cutbacks could put traditional healthcare under threat.

The GP said he was "saddened" by what was happening to the NHS in the county, where a number of small hospitals face closure and scores of acute beds are being axed.

And the comments came as it emerged a health chief has also voiced fears that the crisis could force the NHS further towards private care in Suffolk.

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Debenham GP Paddy Fielder said the cuts could lead to longer waiting times for patients needing non-urgent surgery.

"I'm just very, very concerned about what's happening," he said. "Many of the proposed Primary Care Trust rationalisations will significantly and adversely affect patient care but are, of course, inevitable."

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Ipswich Hospital is already cutting beds, the minor injuries unit and beds have been axed at Aldeburgh Hospital, while Hartismere Hospital in Eye and the Bartlet Hospital in Felixstowe are both earmarked for closure.

Dr Fielder added: "For 35 years I have worked in the NHS and I am desperately saddened by what is being allowed to happen to our patients' care."

He felt in time, doctors would be given more direct funding, but this would be insufficient to cover the costs and inevitably, like the PCTs, they would "come unstuck".

"I feel we are probably going to be the fall guys for when the system breaks down," he said.

"I think they [patients] are going to see longer waiting lists. I think unfortunately the relationship between doctors and patients is in danger of breaking down.

"Draconian measures are going to affect things across the whole of healthcare in Suffolk."

Dr Fielder felt that in five or 10 years' time private finance initiatives could extend to doctors.

"The NHS is a huge financial embarrassment to any political party, but 'they' would rather we were seen to be the cause of this demise.

"I fear PFIs (Private Finance Initiatives) are poised in the background to pick off the best bits whilst less attractive assets such as mental health will be reduced to a very basic function."

He has written on behalf of his GP practice to the Professional Executive Committee at the Suffolk East Primary Care Trusts, which wrote to GPs to make them aware of the serious financial situation the trusts were in and seek their support in achieving financial recovery.

In his written response to Dr Fielder, Dr Don McElhinney, joint Professional Executive Committee chair, said: "I, like you, see huge risks about to happen with the changing functions of the PCTs to largely commissioning bodies.

"The NHS was set up to ensure an equitable service for all patients never mind the financial aspect or cost of care.

"There is a real danger of health care being forced down the road dentists have taken moving from NHS to private care, thus those in need are not receiving the appropriate care."

Dr Gareth Richards, former president of the Suffolk division of the British Medical Association (BMA) and clinical director of the Suffolk East PCTs, said: "These quite legitimate national concerns have been voiced by the BMA and amongst GPs across England for some time and are not particular to Suffolk."

Last night, a Department of Health spokesperson said: "All areas of the country have seen significant improvements in services as a result of the highest level of growth in funding in the history of the NHS.

"Suffolk East PCT will receive £187.6 million in 2006/07 and £209.3 million in 2007/08. This represents an above average cash increase of £41.3 million or 24.5% over two years.

"These are considerable increases in funding, which should deliver real benefits to local patients and allow the PCT to achieve finance balance each and every year."

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