Socialist Worker

John Lister: 'Privatisation driving cash crisis in health service'

Issue No. 2040

Over 100 local and regional rallies, marches and events are planned for the day of action for the health service this Saturday.

Levels of mobilisation have been uneven.

This can be tackled by building a strong national campaign that strengthens resistance in every locality.

Meanwhile ministers have done their bit to fuel the anger.

Over a dozen of them have been dragged reluctantly into backing local protests against NHS cuts in their constituencies.

An unmoved health secretary Patricia Hewitt – who stunned the world last year by claiming that it was the best year ever for the NHS – has done it again.

She proudly announced that the NHS will end the current financial year with a “surplus” of £13 million.

Her promise to resign if the NHS again wound up in financial deficit by April had been one bright spot on a dark horizon of cutbacks and crisis.

Now it seems she has even denied health workers that spark of hope.

Of course Hewitt’s sums are a fiddle. A closer look at the accounts published for the third quarter of a traumatic year for many hospital trusts and primary care trusts (PCTs) showed six out of the ten strategic health authorities (SHAs) facing net deficits totalling £463 million.

The West Midlands SHA is hilariously predicting an exact break even on a budget of billions – while three other SHAs are predicting a combined surplus of just £27.8 million.

These local cash crises have been the driving force behind the job losses, cuts and planned closures that have triggered angry protests across Britain.

The cash problems flow from the “market” in health care – with the NHS reduced to the role of a fund for the purchase of services from a range of private firms, not for profit companies and foundation trusts.

Conjure

So how have Hewitt’s bureaucrats managed to conjure up a claimed overall surplus?

It’s simple – ministers are now planning to pay back to PCTs some of the money they took from them earlier in the year... as a reserve against deficits!

In other words the crisis has been artificially created to force the pace of reorganisation.

And while New Labour’s policy “reform” is diverting billions to the private sector, NHS hospitals are struggling to maintain local services.

More indebted PCTs are trying to cut their spending by introducing a new minimum waiting time (see below) and excluding a growing list of treatments from their contract with local hospitals.

In Cambridgeshire the newly merged PCT has drawn up a list of 60 treatments it will no longer fund.

This will leave many with a “choice” of going without, or paying privately.

Other PCTs have opted for stealth cuts – targeting services to vulnerable groups seen as unlikely to fight back.

In the London boroughs of Brent, Lambeth and Southwark, PCTs have aimed brutal cuts at mental health, older people and services for those with learning disabilities.

But the cuts have not gone unchallenged.

Up and down Britain, plans to close accident and emergency units and maternity services have effectively been stalled by the scale of opposition.

We need more local trade unions to follow the example of the Manchester health workers in taking strike action to fight job and service cuts.

The harder health unions and campaigners resist every cut, closure and privatisation, the greater the pressure on ministers to rethink a policy that is more expensive, less efficient and unpopular with voters.

John Lister is information director for London Health Emergency

National demo

The news that the Unison union’s health executive voted to call for a national demonstration in defence of the NHS has been greeted with enthusiasm by activists.

At present no date has been decided for the protest.

Unison branches should rush messages calling upon the union leadership to name the date as soon as possible.


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