Letter: Consultant: why I cannot trust Tories

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The Independent Online
Sir: I was the surgeon mentioned in your front page article "The truth about health" (25 April)

The period about which Mrs Butler spoke was during a time when there were enormous changes taking place within St Helier, the hospital being among the first wave to attain trust status. There was a great deal of "restructuring", with wards being closed or moved and much insecurity among the staff.

During this time the urology ward (in common with the whole hospital) had problems recruiting and retaining staff. Because of ward closures there were bed shortages and extra beds were often put in the patients' day room(a situation which still occurs) further putting pressure on the reduced number of staff. Mrs Butler is probably right in her description of the ward at that time.

Some wards are still understaffed, although the urology ward is now well staffed and well run and is a credit to the hospital and the NHS, and this is through the dedication and hard work put in by all the ward staff.

From as personal point of view, I would say that the medical staff have a surprisingly good relationship with their managers, although there have been times when there have been major disagreements. However, together they have made St.Helier a very successful trust. The hospital has done everything asked of it following the 1991 health reforms - reduced in- patient beds yet increased throughput, increased the percentage of day- surgery procedures, provided outreach clinics in fundholding practices, privatised catering and cleaning services etc.

However, to enable this to occur all departments have had to make savings year-on-year and have been pared down to the bone; there is no leeway in staff numbers or facilities to cope with fluctuations due to increased emergency admissions. Morale in general is low and the trust has been dealt a severe blow by the local purchasing authority, who do not have enough money to fund the amount of elective surgery necessary to keep waiting times under a year. This has led to yet another ward closure to save money.

In my specialty, urology, the whole team has worked extremely hard to reduce waiting times to around 9 months for routine cases, but we have just been told in the new round of contracts that patients in the routine category must wait 18 months before being admitted. We are to lose another four beds on my ward. No wonder staff (and patients) get angry and frustrated with the statistics that flow out from the politicians. I do not know whether I can trust Tony Blair and a Labour government, but I do know I cannot trust John Major and another Tory government.

CHRISTOPHER R JONES FRCS

Consultant Urologist

St Helier Hospital

Carshalton, Surrey

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