Magazine article Public Finance

Shock and Awe

Magazine article Public Finance

Shock and Awe

Article excerpt

It was a symbolic moment. Great Ormond Street Hospital - one of the most renowned children's hospitals in the world - announced it was closing one in live beds and cancelling operations, in a desperate attempt to balance its books.

The news came at the end of a week in which the government had taken a direct hit from the Opposition over the tale of 'Mrs Dixons' shoulder', followed by some ill-tempered exchanges over MRSA.

Whatever the ethics of using 'human shields' to highlight NHS deficiences - and it has not seemed to trouble New Labour in the past - the tactic has clearly rallied ministers. The Tories have lapped into a widespread feeling that although the NHS has improved, change is coming nowhere near fast enough.

Nor does this weeks health 'minimanifesto - promising 18-week wail ing times and choice for all - carry much conviction when NHS finances are in such a sorry state.

Great Ormond Street's plight illustrates the point. Its £1.7m deficit is a mere fraction of the year-end shortfall of nearly £350m forecast by NHS trusts. One in six trusts failed to break even in 2003/04. Hospitals are cancelling routine surgery and shutting beds in an effort to get out of the red.

But what about those unprecedented sums pumped into the NHS? …

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