By Guest Writer, Denis Cooper of the Campaign for an Independent Britain.
One of the great mysteries of our age is how Gordon Brown can spend so much more on the health service, yet to all appearances with so little benefit to patients. With budget deficits and the closure of wards and even whole hospitals, one might think that the economy had plunged into a deep recession and austerity measures had become the necessary order of the day.
As always there are multiple factors at work, but the one which has received minimal media attention - the classic "elephant in the room" which politicians of all parties prefer to ignore - is the effect of the European Working Time Directive.
It is not as if the government failed to see this coming. For example in early 2003 a Department of Health document, "Keeping the NHS Local - A New Direction of Travel" included an entire section entitled: "Why services may need to change – European Working Time Directive".
It was pointed out that
"While the European Working Time Directive (EWTD) already applies to the majority of NHS staff it will soon apply to doctors in training as well";that
"The requirements of the EWTD for continuous rest periods, and the ruling of the European Court of Justice that time spent resident on call counts as working time, (the SiMAP judgement), mean that it will impact most strongly on services which require 24 hour cover. Currently much of this cover is provided by doctors in training. If working patterns stay the same, compliance with EWTD would imply a sharp rise in the number of doctors needed to run a 24 hour service. This would present real problems for many smaller hospitals with limited staff in individual specialties.";and that
"Solutions initially proposed for achieving compliance with the EWTD – relying on massive increases in the medical workforce, or major reductions in the locations where 24 hour services are provided – were unrealistic."In summary,
"This makes the EWTD a powerful force driving the NHS to look at how services are provided".The government knew that perfectly well then, years ago; and yet the general public are still unaware that this is a major reason - perhaps the main reason - why, despite paying higher taxes to improve the health service, they now find that their local hospitals are under threat. Only now is this story beginning to find its way into the MSM.
From The Observer
From The Guardian
Of course nobody wants doctors treated unfairly, or worked to such a frazzle that they are unfit to look after their patients. But who is better placed to assess how our hospital system can be run efficiently and economically? The doctors and administrators who are supposed to be running it, or the bureaucrats in Brussels and the lawyers at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg?