The Guardian April 12, 2000

Hit squads established for "failing" hospitals

by Caroline Colebrook

The British Government is to establish a new health watchdog to inspect 
hospitals to see if they are performing well. Hospitals will be given hotel 
style ratings and those that fail, instead of being given extra support, 
they will be given a choice: accept outside intervention to improve 
standards or face cuts in funding.

This policy closely mirrors the Government line on education, where its 
"hit squads" have already set to work on several schools and whole 
education authorities. This often involves handing the administration over 
to the private sector.

Renaming schools and bringing in "super-heads" is a policy that simply 
ignores the root causes of why the school was having problems and already 
three "super-heads" have quit, because there are no quick fixes for the 
deep underlying problems.

The Government has also been moving the goalposts on what it means by 
"failing". Schools with reasonable average exam results can now be accused 
of being complacent and failing to stretch  or pressure  pupils enough.

And the Government has recently admitted that it intends to hand schools' 
administrations over to the private sector even when they are not 
"failing". It seems this has been the real agenda all along  to fragment 
and privatise the education system  providing opportunities for the 
private sector to make profits.

Now it seems this process is to be applied to the health service, already 
fragmented into hospital trusts. All patients want better standards in 
hospitals but gimmicky hit squads will not improve things.

Hospitals have for too long suffered funding shortages. They have been 
forced to contract out cleaning services to the cheapest tender on offer. 
The companies that run these services have to make a profit. This can only 
be done by employing fewer workers on lower pay.

It is no wonder that hygiene standards have fallen and now infections are 
running rampant in hospitals. The way to change this is to bring such 
services back into the National Health Service (NHS).

Many skilled health workers like physiotherapists and occupational 
therapists have found their positions undermined and wages cut as cash-
strapped trusts bring in less qualified but cheaper practitioners.

The Royal College of Physicians has recommended a new tier of "health care 
practitioner" to help free doctors and nurses to carry out more complex 
tasks. It might be better simply to employ enough doctors and nurses in the 
first place.

Meanwhile the closures go on. The Stirling Royal Infirmary in Scotland is 
to lose its entire women's and children's directorate, including a state of 
the art labour ward and maternity services.

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