Union blames health policies for care 'crisis'

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The Independent Online
(First Edition) HEALTH and social care services are in a state of crisis because of the Government's NHS and community care changes, according to a survey by a trade union which yesterday staged demonstrations outside 10 Downing Street and the Department of Health.

Unison, the public service union, has published a report highlighting examples of deaths, neglect of patients and poor standards of care caused, it claims, by the changes and a lack of resources. Called 101 Damnations, the survey has drawn examples from national and regional newspapers, influential groups such as the King's Fund and the Medical Research Council, parliamentary questions and experiences of staff.

Published as part of publicity for Caring for the Community Day in the Trades Union Congress's Public Services Week, the report says: 'The examples show that in the health service hospitals are being closed, jobs are being cut and services privatised.'

On social care, the report says: 'The thousands of people sleeping rough on our streets is the evidence that social services are struggling to cope with community care. Rather than provide local authorities with the resources they need to effectively implement community care, the Government is using community care to privatise local services and dismantle local government.'

The union's protest is part of a campaign to highlight problems encountered by patients and staff since the Government's reforms introduced community care and an internal market with a purchaser-provider split in the 1990 NHS and Community Care Act.

Yesterday, campaigners presented a '12-point prescription' for a caring community to tackle inadequacies and inequalities.

Problems highlighted by the survey include patients having to wait for long periods before joining a waiting list; soaring charges for NHS prescriptions, eye tests and dentistry; the creation of a two-tier service in which GP fundholders' patients receive preferential treatment with shorter waiting times; health and social care services being run by unelected and unaccountable and secretive quangos; and responsibility for frail, elderly and vulnerable people increasingly being shunted to families.

Tom Sackville, Parliamentary Secretary at the Department of Health, rejected the survey as 'a bundle of rumours and half truths'. He said: 'Unison aims to scare the public. They are blind to the reality of a modern and world-renowned health service with resources increasing year by year. More and more patients are being treated and waiting times are falling. Community care is giving vulnerable people more choice and more support in their homes.'

(Photograph omitted)