Labour MP Luciana Berger said Theresa May’s ‘cuts are harming mental health services’ [Image: PA].
Jeremy Hunt promised to expand mental healthcare, creating 21,000 new posts by 2021, on July 30. It is now September 20 and that plan is in tatters after Clinical Commissioning Groups said they couldn’t afford it and will reduce their provision.
It’s not a record in terms of the brevity of Tory promises – consider some of their mayfly manifesto pledges from this year’s general election campaign – but it is yet another demonstration of the minority government’s inability to achieve anything positive at all.
Before anybody points out that Theresa May promised to improve mental healthcare in January, just remember that she never offered to put any money into her plan and it was essentially meaningless.
And how much are these CCGs giving to private health companies, who will pass much of the money on to their shareholders as profit – meaning it will not be used to provide any health care at all?
Finally, can everybody see what’s missing from the Department of Health statement? Well, it could have mentioned the amount of investment in mental health in 2010, so we could work out the exact amount by which it has risen. Then we could calculate it as a percentage increase, which we could compare with rates of inflation over the last seven years to work out whether there has been only a money-terms (and therefore meaningless) increase or an actual rise in spending.
As it is, the comment is meaningless and casts suspicion on the validity of NHS England’s Five Year Forward View.
The Government has been accused of “empty promises” over boosting mental health provision as new figures reveal that half of local NHS bodies plan to slash spending on vital services.
Cash-strapped Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England said they will reduce the proportion of their budgets spent on offering mental health support in 2017/18, despite previous commitments from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt that spending would increase.
New figures show that 50 per cent of CCGs would see their mental health budgets squeezed next year, compared to 57 per cent in 2016/17 and 38 per cent the year before.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “This government has increased, not decreased, investment in mental health services. Since 2010, spending on mental health has risen to a record £11.6bn this year, with a further investment of £1bn every year by 2020/21 and we expect CCGs to increase their spending as set out in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View.”
Earlier today, Vox Political reported that Labour’s Lord Carter had claimed some hip operations were “costing more than double the amount that they should, with some expensive replacements not lasting as long as cheaper ones”.
A quick stroll through the Internet has now turned up an example of the kind of operation it is likely he meant – and, don’t be surprised, it’s by a private healthcare company.
The report is a few years old (from 2012) but there’s no reason to believe standards have improved at all. Here’s what the Daily Mailhad to say about one person’s experience:
Mrs Collett had been sent to the Haslar Hospital in Portsmouth, under a contract agreed between the NHS and Netcare, a South African health company.
When she came round from the surgery, she was shocked to be told she’d suffered a third-degree burn to her foot, which was scorched almost to the bone.
But worse was to come. She was also in constant pain from her hip replacement.
Within two months, it dislocated twice.
Mrs Collett says a GP told her the prosthesis in her leg was too short and was also loose because insufficient cement had been used to fix it.
The Mail reckoned 17 per cent of hip replacements were being carried out privately in 2012. It seems doubtful that this number has fallen in the years since.
Private healthcare is now monitored by the Care Quality Commission – but that organisation has itself come under fire for failings of its own.
A report by the Centre for Health and the Public Interest, dated August 2014, states very clearly that the NHS is gambling with patients’ health every time it passes them on to the private sector:
The same requirements to report incidents do not apply to private providers as they do to the NHS, which in itself makes it hard to monitor how safe or otherwise private services are. Information about clinical negligence claims against private providers are not publicly available, as they are in the NHS.
Patients themselves have fewer rights in the private sector. Whilst there is a general requirement to operate a complaints procedure, unlike the NHS complaints procedure, those used by private providers afford no statutory rights to the complainant and there is no recourse to the Health Service Ombudsman in the case of private care. There is no statutory requirement to provide for independent advice and support with complaints which is the case with the NHS. Consequently it is much harder to hold a private provider to account.
Even taking legal action for clinical negligence against a private provider is more problematic than with the NHS, where everything is overseen by the NHS Litigation Authority. A claimant against a private provider can be faced with complications over whether it is the hospital or the individual surgeon or sub-contractor who is liable.
All too often, in addition to the patient who is harmed through no fault of their own, it is the NHS which ends up picking up the pieces (and the tab) when things go wrong in private healthcare.
Worse still, the Conservative Government is clearly complicit in this failure of care:
Bizarrely, as recently as  the Government passed the Care Act, which exempted providers of privately funded care from the new criminal offence for providing false or misleading information to the regulators. As if this could only happen in a publicly run service.
So, if you’re an NHS patient sent to a private hospital for a hip replacement, you could come out in worse condition than you went in, with very little ability to gain financial redress or even to have the mistake corrected – and this is the way the government wants it.
Employment Minister Mark Hoban: His attempt to cover up the failings of the ESA Work Capability Assessment, and his nepotistic use of a former employer to rubber-stamp the cosmetic changes, bring all politics and politicians into disrepute.
Who do you believe about the Work Capability Assessment?
Not the government, obviously.
You may have missed this – because it hasn’t been reported widely in the mass media – but a quiet row has been running for several months, concerning the collection and use of medical evidence to support applications for Employment and Support Allowance, the benefit people taking the WCA have applied to receive.
The government – whose spokesman appears to be Employment Minister Mark Hoban rather than Esther McVey, the Minister who is actually responsible for Disabled People – insists that decisions are made after consideration of all medical evidence supplied by claimants, and that they can provide further evidence during the reconsideration process or appeals.
But there is a mountain of evidence that this is a load of bunkum.
Back in 2010, an ex-military claimant, ‘Mrs S’ wrote a damning report on the service at the time. It stated: “This dangerous DWP contract offers the medical opinion of the Atos Healthcare Disability Analyst as a PRIORITY, which the DWP Decision Makers accept verbatim, so all additional specialist medical opinion of consultants, offered by the patient/claimant, is totally overlooked. Consequently, desperately ill people are now being declared fit for work because they are physically capable of collecting a pen from the floor. Patients, welfare advisors and MPs all presume that specialist medical opinion by a consultant will be accepted because they are unfamiliar with the details of the contract.
“The contract requires specialist medical opinion for several conditions… This is routinely ignored by Atos Healthcare with devastating consequences, whilst the UK government offer total support for this private company.
“Atos Healthcare doctors do not have access to a patient’s detailed medical history at the interview with the patient, as confirmed by Atos Healthcare, so one needs to question why so much detailed medical evidence is requested, which will be totally ignored?
“Atos Healthcare is totally unaccountable for all medical examinations. All usual patient safety networks in place for NHS and private healthcare do not apply and, according to the GMC and the Healthcare Commission, Atos Healthcare, as a company, ‘…have total immunity from all medical regulation.’
“There is no clinical supervision whatsoever.”
Get the picture? This situation has not changed in three years, despite the claims of Mr Hoban that he is “committed to ensuring that the Work Capability Assessment is as fair and accurate as possible”.
On Tuesday (August 13), New Statesman published details of several Atos claimants with mental health problems who – surprise, surprise – have been let down by the system.
One of these, who had previously attempted suicide, was driven to a further attempt to take her own life after receiving a string of 18 letters from a Work Programme Provider, all sent after it was advised to leave her alone for the good of her health.
“The DWP said it would not investigate the matter because [the Work Programme Provider] has its own internal complaints procedure,” the article stated, before going on to report on how that worked.
The company refuted the allegation and went on to say that it “takes its responsibilities to its customers and staff seriously. We have robust policies on safeguarding and data protection in place to ensure their privacy and safety is always maintained. With this in mind, it would be inappropriate for [us] to comment on individual any cases”.
It is clear that there is a culture of unaccountability running right through this system; the only people who bear the consequences of Work Capability assessors’ actions are the claimants themselves.
Perhaps that is why so many are dying that the DWP is now afraid to publish mortality figures for people going through the process. The suicidal person mentioned in the Statesman article would have been one more to add to the multitude, if they had succeeded in taking their own life.
This is what your votes support – a state-sponsored drive for sick or disabled people to kill themselves, rather than continue to be a burden on a Conservative-led government. Compassionate Conservatism – and this is at its most compassionate.
Let’s add in a few details. We know that the government recently lost a court battle in which it claimed that the current process was fair to people with mental health conditions. The Upper Tribunal disagreed and now the DWP is appealing against that decision – because ministers don’t want their underlings to have to consider medical information on anyone that hasn’t been gathered in the biased way ensured by the Atos Healthcare training system.
“We already request claimants supply any evidence they feel will be relevant to the assessment in the ESA50 questionnaire,” the department said in an email quoted by the Statesman.
But we already know from ‘Mrs S’ that this information is “totally overlooked”. It was in 2010 and we have no reason to believe the current situation is any different, judging from the treatment of claimants.
Now it seems claimants are finding it harder to get the expert medical evidence they need, because GPs are either refusing to hand it over, or are charging more money for it than claimants receive for their personal survival.
In southeast Wales, Bro Taf Local Medical Committee has come under fire for ordering GPs to stop providing support information to disability benefit claimants who were appealing against WCA decisions. The LMC has said its problem is not with the provision of evidence itself, but with the “increasing number of appeals [which] has resulted in more GP appointments being taken up to deal with such requests”.
Hoban said last month that he was bringing in “additional providers” to carry out assessments from summer 2014 and had already directed Atos to improve the quality of its written reports following assessments.
This will do nothing to improve matters, if the contract and the training given to the new providers is the same as that given to Atos.
And he has engaged a company to “provide independent advice in relation to strengthening quality assurance processes”. This company is PricewaterhouseCoopers, Mr Hoban’s former employer. The connection with the Minister implies an inappropriate relationship from the get-go.
Put it all together and you have an attempt to carry out business as usual, under the veil of a ham-fisted cover-up involving friends of the Minister. Anyone bothering to check the facts will see it as further evidence of the corruption that is rotting the institutions of British government with staggering rapidity under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration.
But there is a worse effect, which has a bearing on all politicians: Even those who accept such announcements at face value will consider this to be a failure by government. “They can’t get anything right” will be the chorus from the Great Uninterested – and the continuing furore as mistakes – and deaths – continue to take place will only reinforce the view that we should not give any politicians the time of day.
Speaking before the event, Mr McGowan said a few words that were particularly illuminating. “Without a mandate, having concealed their health policy, this government is giving away NHS contracts to the highest bidder,” he said.
“Under the cloak of austerity, the primary purpose of this government is to move public money into private pockets, as fast as humanly possible. They are like pigs at the trough of public money.
“These people in government are liars, criminals and thieves and should be arrested for embezzlement of public funds. A staggering 206 parliamentarians have recent or present financial private healthcare connections; amazingly all of them were allowed to vote on the Health and Social Care Act.
“This is not a democracy.”
You’d have expected this expression of free speech to have received a huge amount of coverage in the free press, wouldn’t you? Well, think again because I just checked: An article in the Metro and a video on something called London24. That’s all.
Ah, but there’s always Facebook, where bloggers such as myself can freely direct readers such as yourselves to our work and highlight the subjects not covered in the so-called popular press, isn’t there?
Well, this was a story that Facebook was doing its damnedest to make sure didn’t get out.
Facebook then seemed to get a taste for censorship: The Pride’s Purge blog by Tom Pride received similar treatment after it posted links to an openly-satirical article (It was plainly marked ‘Satire’) about the Department for Work and Pensions and Atos.
Tom claimed in a later post that a JobCentre Plus worker “openly bragged” to him that JCP had complained to Facebook about him, and this had led to the censorship of his work.
Even this blog, which only posted links to other articles about these issues, was targeted for attack. As readers who link here from Facebook will know – you alerted me to it – we had a couple of days when visits here were accompanied by this stern warning: “Facebook thinks this site may be unsafe. If you’re not familiar with it, please provide feedback by marking it as spam (you’ll be brought back to Facebook).” As site statistics show, this was enough to put many readers off.
I wasn’t having it. I have written to Facebook, pointing out that the unfounded allegation is defamatory and demanding that reparations must be made – to charity, and to the Labour Party (of which I am a member), since this site is not for profit and the attacks seemed to be centred on left-leaning bloggers. They’ve got three weeks to respond, then I start adding noughts to the amount that I suggested.
Facebook has said the mass censorship was a mistake made by its automated systems – but you’d have to be gullible in the extreme to believe that.
So much for freedom of speech; so much for freedom of the press; so much for freedom on the Internet.
Yesterday it emerged that a man had been held in prison for two weeks after claims were made that he made a “threat to kill” during an Atos work capability assessment.
Steve Topley, a 49-year-old Hucknall father with multiple health conditions including Reynard’s syndrome, who has a heart replacement valve and lost one of his kidneys to cancer, and is on a strict medication regime including treatment to stabilise his blood levels and maintain safe blood pressure, was whisked away after he made comments about a person who was not present at the assessment.
He was arrested, subjected to a mental health assessment which offered no reason to detain him, so was re-arrested and taken to Nottingham police station where he was charged and kept in custody. He was refused bail twice in closed courts which, his family said, they were refused permission to attend.
Today (Friday) he was taken to another secret court, where he was charged, admitted the crime, and bailed – with the likelihood of a community sentence waiting for him at his next appearance.
Johnny Void, writing about this in his blog, made some particularly apposite comments on the subject, as follows: “This incident happened in the middle of an Atos assessment which are notoriously stressful and frightening for claimants. If he hadn’t been put through that, it is unlikely he would have said whatever he said, which it seems was not a very credible threat, at least as far as the Judge was concerned.
“It can make people react irrationally or angrily and they end up doing things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. The context these events take place in is often ignored by ‘professionals’, because to them it is all just a job and they can’t understand why people are not being reasonable. The stark terror felt by some people facing courts, benefit assessments, arrests, bailiffs, prisons or even more seemingly benign institutions such as social services, Jobcentres and community mental health teams can often cause people to destroy themselves. This can happen even if ‘professionals’ concerned do their jobs properly within the constrain of the system and no-one is really personally culpable.”
So much for personal freedom – but wait. The situation here is actually worse than even this story makes out. I am indebted to Vox Political commenter vince032013, who tells us the following, about so-called ‘reforms’ to Legal Aid (italics mine):
“Things might be about to get a lot worse. The government are now planning on reforming the criminal justice system. Highlights are 1. Suspects in the police station will not be able to choose a solicitor. They will be appointed one. 2. The number of solicitors’ firms is to be reduced by 75 per cent (that’s not a typo – 75 per cent). 3. The reduction in the number of solicitors is to be achieved by putting criminal work out to tender. 4. The bidders are not allowed to bid at over 82.5 per cent of the current cost of running a criminal case. 5. The consultation which has introduced this idea states in terms that it does not want solicitors to offer any more than an “acceptable” level of service to suspects. 6. Once charged, defendants may be represented in court by someone with no Crown Court trial experience (and will not be able to exercise a choice to change that representative). If you’re interested read the consultation here
In other words, this Conservative/Liberal Democrat government is determined to rig the justice system against anybody who becomes caught up in it. The conditions described by the commenter are utterly corrupt and offer nobody in this country any chance at justice – unless they can afford it. So the really serious criminals and gangsters have nothing at all to fear.
Today we also discovered that the so-called “big four” accountancy firms – Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers – who were brought into the Treasury to help the government draw up tax laws, have been using the ‘insider’ knowledge they have gained to help wealthy clients avoid paying taxes. They have been telling multinational corporations and wealthy individuals how to exploit loopholes in the legislation they have helped to write – according to the House of Commons’ public accounts committee.
This represents a staggering betrayal of the working- and middle-class citizens of this country, who have no choice but to pay all the tax that the government demands from them or face imprisonment – and an appalling display of hypocrisy on the part of David Cameron, the British Prime Minister who, only yesterday, said he planned to use the UK’s chairmanship of the G8 nations to tackle what he himself described as “staggering” worldwide levels of tax evasion and avoidance – levels that he, himself, is helping to boost.
Now, I’m not voting in the elections next week. There isn’t a poll in my part of the country. But if you are planning to vote…
Considering the way the government has pushed through its plans to sell the NHS to the highest bidders (without a mandate, having concealed its health policy); considering the way it has been implicated in attempts to stop the public from finding out about the plans and what they mean (in conjunction with Facebook); considering how its servants take it upon themselves to subject very-ill individuals to extreme pressure and then imprison them on the basis of what they say in those circumstances; considering the plan to deny justice to the poor and make high-quality legal advice available only to the extremely rich people, including rich criminals, who can afford it; and considering the fact that it has opened the door for those who should be paying the most tax in this country to avoid doing so altogether – while claiming it is doing the exact opposite…
Taking all those issues into consideration, if you are a working-class or middle-class person planning to vote Conservative or Liberal Democrat next Thursday, then for your own safety, submit yourself for medical assessment because you must be barking mad.
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