Gordon Brown this week made clear his enthusiasm for ending universal healthcare on the NHS.
Coming in the week of Brown’s latest budget, it was part of his plans to set out a “post Blair” agenda where private profit continues to come before public services.
In a move that threatens the very foundations of the health service, a report launched by Tony Blair and the chancellor on Monday states that the government plans to restrict the range of treatments available on the NHS and draw up a list of others for which patients will have to pay.
News that ministers were exploring the possibility of the NHS providing only core services was revealed in the small print of the public services policy review.
If the government gets its way it is likely that conditions such as infertility, obesity and impotence will no longer be treated on the NHS. Once the principle of excluding some treatments is established, many others could be drip fed onto this list.
How long will it be before expensive healthcare treatments, such as joint replacements, are added to this list?
Brown’s plan raises the nightmarish possibility that, the health service in Britain under New Labour will increasingly resemble that of the US, where millions of people struggle with medical conditions that they cannot afford to get treated.
There is already support among senior Labour Party figures for such constraints. Patricia Hewitt, the health secretary, was deputy chair of a pharmaceutical industry financed study that called for restrictions on free health services. Charles Clarke, the former home secretary, called last month for patients to pay for routine surgery.
In a further example of NHS privatisation, Hewitt’s department of health was this week attempting to persuade supermarkets to take over the running of GP surgeries, locating them directly in their stores.
She hopes that by distancing surgeries from their traditional settings, people will grow increasingly accustomed to seeing the NHS in partnership with the private sector.
For millions of people the NHS remains a source of pride. It embodies a set of principles, including all-embracing care, that are a byword for what public services ought to be about.
For Blair and Brown, it seems the opposite is true. They are embarrassed by services that do not seek to make a profit.
It is vital that health service trade unions respond to this latest assault by naming the day for the national demonstration agreed by the Unison union’s health executive.
Such a protest could be the beginning of a campaign that could unite all public sector workers with the wider public that values the services that they provide.