Saturday, 10 May 2014

Banks and the NHS: the joy of numbers

Numbers are such fun.

Here are a couple. Barclays Bank has 481 senior staff who were paid over a million pounds last year. A large proportion of that money came out of its bonus pool that amounted to £2.4 billion.

Meanwhile, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which offers guidance on safe practice in healthcare, has reported that nursing levels have fallen to levels at which many hospitals can no longer operate separately.

Nurses: numbers are falling to levels where safety is compromised
The government maintains loudly and repeatedly that this has nothing to do with funding: “...hospitals must balance their books whilst ensuring compassionate quality care for all. We know this can and is being done – safe staffing levels lead to better care and can save the NHS money.”

Nevertheless, the service itself knows that faced with the challenge to save £20 billion by 2015, 
issued when the current government took office in 2010, many hospitals responded by cutting staff numbers. The Royal College of Nursing finds that there are hospitals now with 16% of their nurse posts unfilled. 

Ironically, the economy drive while damaging hasn’t even achieved anything like the savings wanted, as the service is spending several hundred million pounds a year on bank nurses. Just to avoid confusion, that’s not the same kind of bank: it’s the system by which nurses can earn more by doing extra shifts for a fee significantly higher than normal pay. That’s what hospitals are having to pay to make up shortfalls.

NICE now calculates that to get back to safe levels would require in the region of 20,000 more nurses in the service. The cost would be around £700 million: the rule of thumb figure used is £35,000 per year per nurse.

That’s what it would cost to make us all safer at those moments when we most need to be protected, when we’re ill enough to be in hospital.

Now let’s look at those figures again.

481 staff at Barclays bank made at least a million last year. That’s enough for nearly 30 nurses each. And that’s a minimum: many of those million-plus executives took a great deal more.

Barclays Bank set aside £2.4 billion to pay its staff bonuses for last year, a year in which the Bank’s performance actually fell. So for bad performance, it set aside nearly three and a half times what it would cost to make the whole of the NHS safe for all of us.

Barclays Bank has also just announced 19,000 redundancies. Those powerful executives, being paid enough to staff an entire hospital ward on their own, are going to earn their money by taking a lot of people paid a great deal less, and throwing them onto the unemployment scrapheap.

Meanwhile, the government is extremely unlikely to dig up the funds to find the 20,000 extra nurses our hospitals need.

It may, of course, just be me. But I feel these figures say just one thing: this society of ours has got its values into a complete mess.

And just one question springs to mind: how can anyone still be planning to vote again for the parties that make up the current ConDem government? Or, given that UKIP shares its stance on the NHS, its main challenger to the right either?

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