NHS In Crisis: The Story of Torrington Community Hospital
by Elijah Pryor
Mon 2nd Sep 2013
Since 2008, the economic crisis has provoked the destabilization of frontline public services and increased the number of unemployed citizens in the UK. Although the national debt shrank between the 1950’s and the late 1980’s, under Thatcher’s government the rapid decline in national debt, in accordance to Gross Domestic Product, fizzled out and remained at similar levels until the early 1990’s when debt was sized down to less than 40% of UK GDP. Under New Labour the debt briefly grew above 40%. After the millennium, the debt fell below 40% GDP. The year 2008 signaled the end of this stabilised debt. A sharp increase in national debt saw an increase to over 90% of UK GDP and it continues to increase under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government.
Even though the economic crisis that we are facing is less worse than that of the Second World War and most of 1950/1960’s; the increase in national debt should not be approached without caution. It should be recognised that the surge in debt is the result of bailing out the banks. Furthermore, New Labour had the chance to withdraw support from dodgy private banking and make moves towards a better banking system, one that does not put people’s lives on the line or make transactions with invisible cash. However, New Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats all suffer the same disinhibitions when it comes to progressing with a neoliberal agenda. Privatisation and deregulation, which are key features of neoliberalism, thrive in an economic crisis. Some might even say that an economic crisis provides a perfect excuse to make cuts to public services.
It is not just the national government who faces a hostile response to the crisis. Local governments and their services also feel the full force of privatisation. In truth, the Con-Dem government wants to strip back any responsibility from local government and sell its services to contractors who eagerly wait for the bidding to begin. The NHS is just one of the highly valued public services that millions rely on for treatment. The crisis has been used as an excuse by central government for NHS trusts to be cut back, employees to be sacked and health centres to be closed. One of these publicly valued health centres in critical condition, after a round of funding cuts, is Torrington Community Hospital, situated in a rural town in North Devon. The locals have been fighting against the destruction of their community hospital.
A community hospital that, over the years, has provided a place of residence for the ill, treatment for minor injuries, physiotherapy for those with mobility issues, care for the older generation, and has been a symbol of local people’s autonomy.
Torrington Community Hospital
Torrington Community Hospital has long been pushed and shoved in various directions by the un-compassionate economic agenda of neoliberalism.
Torrington is an area where many low income pensioners and low income families live. It is thus necessary to understand the importance of the hospital’s role in the community. The hospital's minor injury unit (MIU), which provided residents easy access to care for emergencies, was gradually stripped back due to a lack of funding. Furthermore, respite and home services, for those who were unable to care for themselves, were decimated by the increase in private nursing homes, an ironic tragedy considering many cannot afford these private businesses.
Recently, the hospital has come under greater strain by central government moves to undermine the NHS and increase the private sector's stranglehold on frontline services. It was announced that the hospital would be closed overnight and the number of beds reduced. The new changes to opening times also saw an increase in the number of hours worked by each nurse, up to 12 hour a day, which is exhausting for workers who already give a great degree of commitment. What about the patients? The immobile or mentally ill are being 'left out in cold', with the only response unit overnight available to them being the "doctor on call", another illogical step considering response times can be slow. Furthermore, in a town where geographic mobility is greatly reduced by the lack of adequate transportation and financial poverty, how can residents be expected to reach emergency services or find overnight accommodation if they are unable to reach the second and third closest hospital services that are already trying to cope with the strain of extra patients from out of the area.
The Torrington community has been working tirelessly to reverse the changes; they are made up of councilors, pensioners, workers, local business owners, residents of all incomes, musicians, artists and more. It is not just a handful of residents who are passionate about their hospital, it is the whole community. Moreover, the ‘League of Friends’ and ‘STITCH’ community action groups, have been particularly resourceful by getting involved in the organisation of meetings, marches and lobbying. The Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and the NHS Trust, opponents of the Torrington Community Hospital, have had they work cut out when it comes to facing the vehement support shown by the community.
Torridge and West Devon MP, Geoffrey Cox, has failed to act adequately to help Torrington residents preserve their community health centre. Private businesses are getting their way with the local services. We are close to creating a society where patients are clients and the degree of care received is correlated with one's income. Is the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition criminally insane or are they a pack of opportunistic wolves? A terminally ill patient's last promise of remaining in the hospital till their passing was only granted after a public outcry against plans to move the patient to a nursing home. Not a sign of compassion or empathy by the CCG or NHS Trust, but a move to protect their own skin.
Before I finish this article I would like to give a personal account of time spent at Torrington Community Hospital. When I was 15, I completed a week long work experience placement at the hospital. During that week, I witnessed the tireless endeavours of staff as they cared for their patients empathically. The kitchen staff, the nursing staff, the cleaners, the receptionists, the doctors, the physiotherapists and the pharmacists, all worked together to ensure a patient’s stay was made as comfortable as possible. During the time I spent at the hospital I realised I was able to give elderly and disabled patients comfort and hope by spending time with them and listening to them. My grandmother, who unfortunately passed away after suffering from Alzheimer’s dementia, received first class care from the staff at Torrington Community Hospital Staff during her stay. I ask Mr Cameron and his government why they would deny the people of this town the right to accessible, free and compassionate healthcare.
I would like to say a big thank you to Diana Davey, The League of Friends, STITCH and the Torrington Community for all their assistance in producing this article; their help has been invaluable