Throughout the last election campaign, the Tories said till they were even bluer in the face than usual that they would protect the NHS from any looming cuts, and that within the public services more generally they would protect the ‘frontline.’ Where this frontline was drawn was never terribly clear, but the general impression given was that mysterious ‘backrooms’ would go, but nice doctors and lovely nurses would stay.
Again helped by the political cover provided by the Lib Dems, the Tories have managed to go back on their word yet again.
Take a look here and here, at the Royal College of Nursing’s Frontline First campaign. It shows that real jobs are being lost, and not just the sort of job losses a government thinks it can get away with – managers and admin for example (as if, incidentally, a hospital can function without them) – but real nursing jobs too.
If I can put on two of my hats now – chairman of fundraising for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, and ambassador for the Time to Change campaign on mental illness – what concerns me most is the impact all this has on specialist nurses. The RCN’s report has shown thousands of jobs are at risk and these will undoubtedly include those nurses who stick with a patient for years, not just days. Like the specialist nurses who look after children with leukaemia, and who stay with them throughout, get to know their medical details in real depth, get to know parents and family and friends, act as a vital lifeline when something doesn’t look quite right in the middle of the night and Mum or Dad knows who to get hold of.
Cutting these posts is not only massively damaging to the patient and family; it’s also a false economy. If a mum can call the nurse instead of going to A&E, it saves money. When the care provided by the nurse reduces complications and speeds recovery, it saves money.
Then there’s mental health. Our local paper has recently focused on the closing of two mental health centres. A glance at the interactive map on Frontline First shows the threat to mental health services all round the country. Hover over the East of England and you’ll see the decommissioning of mental wellbeing nurses; go to the West Midlands and 91 staff are at risk in mental health, learning disability and specialist children’s services. Look at Yorkshire and Humber and you’ll see mental health services which are ‘temporarily’ closed. I suppose if you take away the service, there can’t really be a frontline at all. Maybe that’s what they meant.
As the cuts get implemented, Cameron and Clegg will parrot away the line that the frontline is being protected. To the child with leukaemia, that specialist nurse is the bloody frontline. To the mentally ill – a group likely to grow when the full impact of job losses kicks in with the cuts – there is nothing more frontline than the mental health services that are about to be cut.
Of course the RCN is a campaigning body representing its own members and therefore a vested interest. But their members know about the frontline in the NHS because they are on it, and they know that the combination of cuts, reforms and ideological shrinking of the State will have a devastating effect on real people with real problems when the help runs out.