KOSHH Campaigner, Georgia Lewis shares her thoughts on scaremongering:
It is a common accusation when you are campaigning to save your local hospital and, indeed, the wider NHS. The “scaremongering” accusation is often used to either try and shut a discussion down or as a way of sticking fingers in ears and burying heads in the sand. After all, nobody wants to believe that their local hospital or the NHS as a whole is under threat.
“I went to the hospital the other day and it was fine. The hospital is not going anywhere. Stop scaremongering!”
We don’t doubt for a moment that you were fortunate enough to have a hospital to go to, and when you got there, you were treated well by professional, hardworking staff. But those staff are working under a cloud of uncertainty, particularly nurses, junior doctors and anyone on a bursary, and one day, they may not be there to treat you or your loved ones when you are sick or injured.
“Here we go again! Another NHS campaign group saying we only have a matter of weeks or day to save the NHS but the NHS is still here. Change the record and stop scaremongering!”
Death of a thousand cuts
Do you really think for a moment that any government of any stripe would simply shut down the NHS in one fell swoop? Of course not. That would be political suicide. But that does not mean that the NHS is not being chipped away at, little by little, dying the death of a thousand cuts. Suddenly, your local Clinical Commissioning Group has no money for a service it used to provide, or a vital service is under threat.
Perhaps services have been farmed out to the private sector and if something goes wrong, you are forced to get answers from a private company that is exempt from freedom of information laws and not subject to the same transparency as a government entity. For that private company, corporate confidentiality trumps public accountability.
Or perhaps junior doctors will have a contract that is unsafe and unfair imposed on them and, as a result, they will leave the NHS in droves, seeking work in countries where they are treated with respect and where they can do their work while well-rested. This, in turn, leads to a decline in the NHS and then it is ripe for full privatisation, with the blessing of a public that has been duped.
These things are already happening.
Of course campaign groups, such as KOSHH, are going to raise awareness by saying that there is limited time to save Epsom and St Helier hospitals as well as the wider NHS. Sometimes the truth is unsettling, but letting people know the truth is part of the job of campaign groups.
KOSHH has never scaremongered. We have merely raised awareness about what is going on, and letting people know that Epsom, St Helier and Queen Mary's Hospitals are not safe. We have been saying this all along.
Here are a few examples:
- Cleaning services have been farmed out to the private sector. There has been a rise in MRSA infections in this time but we have never been able to get a satisfactory answer as to whether there is any correlation between moving away from in-house cleaning and the MRSA increase.
- At the last Merton CCG annual general meeting, Adam Doyle, the chief officer, was asked by a KOSHH campaigner if local hospitals were safe and he said that he “cannot guarantee the future of any local hospitals”. This should have been front page news. As the CCGs make the decisions, this is a statement that should not make anyone feel relaxed.
- Despite much talk over the past year or so from Epsom-St Helier Trust manager about how the trust’s finances are on track towards breaking even, we revealed (here, here and here) in March 2016 that the trust is actually £28.4m in deficit.
- Despite claiming that services are not being privatised, the trust has formed a partnership with Slimming World in its treatment of obese pregnant women. With free short-term memberships up for grabs, the trust has effectively become a sales agent for Slimming World.
- The Estates Review document is not, despite appearances, a harmless document about building maintenance. It is a blueprint for privatisation. It is overly critical of aspects of the buildings that simply require basic maintenance, such as external walls at St Helier Hospital that require a fresh coat of paint. There is strange criticism of a tunnel that is designed to move patients between buildings, particularly in bad weather. But the report makes this tunnel seem like a nightmarish passage to hell. It is a functional passage that does a job. It does not need to be lined with unicorns and rainbows.
- In particular, the Estates Review survey that was open to the public was designed to create a deliberate contradictions. For example, it asks respondents if they’d like private rooms but it also asks if they’d like beds to be in full view of the nurses’ station. These two ideals are at odds with each other but plenty of people will merrily tick both boxes, because both sound nice. Hey presto! The trust can point out that a high number of respondents want private rooms! If the hospital is adjusted accordingly, it then becomes a building that is easier to sell to, you guessed it, a private provider.
So, the next time you hear someone describe a campaigner as “scaremongering”, ask yourself why they might be keen to shut down debate. Ask yourself what they might be scared of you knowing - and know that we are not “scaremongering”. We are simply telling the truth because lives may depend upon it.