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Save Our NHS Leicestershire

New elective treatment centre at Leicester General shows why we need to retain NHS land

By Tom Barker
October 2, 2022

In the Autumn of 2020, University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust carried out an online public consultation over proposals worth £450 million to reorganise acute hospital services in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. The plans included the closure of Leicester General Hospital as an acute hospital.

Part of the motivation for this closure, so said the Trust, was a desire to manage understaffing by putting an end to duplication or triplication of services at Leicester’s three acute hospital sites. What didn’t receive much publicity was that the sale of hospital land was a precondition for receiving the £450 million funding from the government. (Following the Conservative’s 2017 Naylor Review, the government has systematically withheld funding from cash-strapped NHS Trusts unless they agree to sell off large portions of their estates.)

At the time of the consultation, supporters of Save Our NHS Leicestershire and the public in general pointed to the dangers of selling off the land at the General, with more than 30 letters being published in the Leicester Mercury during the 12-week consultation period raising this or related arguments.

It was pointed out that we have an ageing and growing population and that it would be necessary to retain land so that the NHS could expand into the future. It was pointed out that one of the main lessons from the pandemic was that our services needed flexibility and additional space, so that patients could be safely spaced out and elective care, for example, could continue even under pandemic conditions. It was pointed out that once NHS land was sold, it was gone and could not be easily be retrieved other than at great expense.

Now, and we say this with no satisfaction, our belief that some capacity at the Leicester General Hospital would be needed has been vindicated by UHL Trust’s decision to create a new elective treatment centre on the site of the Leicester General as part of the government’s ‘plan’ to reduce waiting lists (Leicester Mercury, “New hospital building ‘needed immediately’ to help ease operation backlog”, August 21).

This decision, which runs totally counter to the Trust’s original plans, is born out of a dire emergency. As the Mercury report states:

“Some 841 UHL patients had been waiting over two years for surgery in May this year, according to documents from last month’s Trust board meeting. While this was a drop of almost 300 patients – from 1,138 – compared to April this year, the number of patients waiting over a year had increased from 16,936 to 17,187 patients between April and May.”

We can add to this the sobering fact that patients waiting for elective (planned) care at our local Leicester hospitals wait longer on average than almost all other patients in England.[1] It is hoped that the new treatment centre at the General will relieve some of this pressure.

It gives us no pleasure to be proven right under these conditions.

The only people benefitting from the chaos currently enveloping our NHS is private health vultures, who are already mopping up contracts for elective care while NHS growth has been held back by underfunding and the failure to care adequately for staff.

Patients are suffering. Not far off 7 million people now languish on NHS elective care [2] waiting lists and around 1.6million wait for mental health care. Nationally, between April and June 2021, 65,000 patients resorted to self-pay operations, up 30% from the same period in 2019; research commissioned by the Financial Times shows that for the first time ever more people were getting hip and knee operations done privately rather than through the NHS.

NHS staff are suffering. In August 2022, a representative from Unison Health East Midlands described the combination of increased demand, increased vacancies, more sickness absence, and low pay as a “perfect storm” leading NHS workers to look elsewhere for better paying and less stressful jobs (Leicester Mercury, “Crisis as staff shortages, care backlog and insufficient pay creating ‘perfect storm’ in NHS, union warns.” August 19). According to official figures, there are over 130,000 vacancies in the NHS in England alone, around 1 in 10 of the planned workforce.

Indeed, deteriorating conditions for NHS staff and patients is music to the ears of private health corporations – just one of the reasons why they cannot be trusted with our health.

We hope that local NHS bosses take this opportunity to reconsider future plans to sell off NHS estate which, after-all, belongs to all of us. And we ask the public to get involved with our campaign to stop and reverse the attacks on our health service; to kick out the profiteers; to support NHS workers in their fight for big improvements in pay and conditions; and to wage a struggle for a future where good quality healthcare, free at the point of use, is accessible to everyone.

[1] A Moore (2022) Don’t overwork staff’, says trust with just one 52-week waiter, Health Service Journal, February 16

[2] D Campbell (2022) NHS vacancies in England at ‘staggering’ new high as almost 10% of posts empty, The Guardian, September 1