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25/09/2019 - Three inquests show that unions are right to warn of the effects of NHS cuts

nhsUnions, including Solidarity, have warned for years of the likely tragic consequences of underfunding of our NHS.

Back in 2018 12 unions wrote to the then Health Secretary and warned: "Stop and listen to the people that know the NHS best. Who see with their own eyes every day how bad things have got. Fund it better and do so now, for all our sakes". The calls from Unions for a properly funded NHS have largely fallen on deaf ears.

Recent inquests into the deaths of three pensioners in East Sussex have uncovered failings linked to pressure on resources. They show that NHS cuts are contributing to the deaths of vulnerable people.

Alan Craze, the Hastings coroner, said the three deaths in the summer of 2017 “all involve issues relating to the prompt dispatch of an ambulance”.

Ninety-year-old Daisy Filby waited around an hour and 45 minutes for an ambulance, while lying face down and unable to move, in Seaford, East Sussex. She was pronounced dead when the ambulance arrived.

Mr. Craze recorded a conclusion of “accident contributed to by neglect” at an inquest into her death. “There clearly was a failure to provide basic medical attention,” he said.

“The problem ultimately is systemic and the heart of it is the call-taking and decision-making system.” He added that, after years of austerity, the health service faces “huge” pressure to use resources as efficiently as possible.

Daisy’s daughter, Linda, had made repeated 999 calls and was unable to lift her mother. But a computer had been programmed to make decisions in Daisy’s case.

Mr. Craze said that “only a properly-trained human being” could have listened to the call and made the right decision.

Worryingly he said the system, used by South East Coast Ambulance Service, appeared to have been rolled out nationally. “That system has failed Mrs. Filby and her daughter,” he said.

Two other pensioner deaths in East Sussex were also linked to the late arrival of ambulances.

Mr. Craze concluded that 84-year-old Anthony Harding died of natural causes after collapsing.

Anthony’s wife had called 999 at 6.32 pm after he collapsed. An ambulance technician arrived at 7.45 pm and paramedics arrived to assist at 8.31 pm.

Mr. Craze said that the 999 call was treated as a “minor medical issue” and the ambulance didn’t reach Anthony until more than an hour after it due to a “shortage of resources”.

A third pensioner, 87-year-old Maurice Goodwin, died from natural causes contributed to by neglect, Mr. Craze ruled.

District nurses arrived at 9.05 pm – more than three hours after the first 999 call.

“They said it was too late and he had died,” Mrs. Goodwin said.

Mr. Craze concluded that the call-answering service in 2017 was “not fit for purpose”.

* This article first appeared in 'British Worker' the weekly internal newsletter of Solidarity union.