Socialist Appeal readers will know of the controversy surrounding the decision to close the Accident & Emergency Department at Monklands Hospital, Airdrie in North Lanarkshire. The decision caused outrage among the district's residents after a sham "consultation exercise" costing the public in excess of £50,000, before deputy Health Minister of the Scottish Executive, New Labour's Lewis Macdonald, predictably rubber-stamped the decision.
The series of public meetings, all packed and overseen by a Public Relations firm whose directors and hosts include well known Scottish broadcast personalities. The major issues that came to light were that 2 of the 3 Lanarkhire Hospitals were owned, run and operated under PFI schemes. PFI had a major influence in the Health Trust's preference to close Monklands, the only NHS hospital involved.
Many of those at the public meetings who opposed the closure drew on their own personal experiences of being turned away from Wishaw Hospital (Wishaw will be the hospital taking most of the Monkland's catchment area). One couple made the national news when they were forced to travel by ambulance to Dundee, over 100 miles away for the woman to have her baby. The maternity ward beds at Wishaw were being used to treat elderly patients. Costs for working class and the poor was also an issue. Wishaw is situated about 10 miles from Monklands. A taxi costs around £12-£15. The privatised bus company has no interst in putting on a service as they have decided there is not enough profit for them. It also has a great bearing on visiting relatives or friends. Monklands has less than a 50% car ownership record and is one of the poorest areas in Scotland.
Over the holiday period Scotland was hammered by a 'flu outbreak with few escaping. Monklands Hospital was unable to cope and referred patients to Wishaw. However, Wishaw was so overwhelmed it was forced to close its doors. Lanarkshire Health Board Trust was continually warned the closure of Monklands would ultimately result in death, particularly of the most vulnerable. I personally know of one man who died during this epidemic and have heard anecdotal stories of others. John Reid is the MP for the area. His record as Health Secretary was abysmal, introducing all sorts of privatisation to our NHS and the notorious, and unpopular policy of Foundation Hospitals. Reid turned up at local demonstrations weeping crocodile tears, as he protested against his own party's policy. All the warnings were clear, but now we see how dangerous this PFI policy in our health service actually is. If Lanarkshire people are dying when there are 3 hospitals that can't cope, how can reducing them to only 2 be the way forward.