Socialist Worker

Health service: Tax the rich to solve NHS crisis

Issue No. 1778

New Labour has finally admitted the NHS is in a huge crisis and needs more funding. A row has broken out about how to fund the health service, with talk of raising taxes, and even of a special 'health tax'. All the politicians shy away from the key way to raise money for health-taxing the rich.

The top rate of tax has more than halved since 1979, and is now just 40 percent. Blair and Brown refuse to raise taxes on the rich. Blair also backtracked on his pledge, made again just last week, to increase health spending to the European average by 2005. He said he would not 'be pinned down' on specific figures.

Health spending in Britain is now 6.9 percent of the country's annual output, what economists call gross domestic product. That is way behind the European average of 9 percent.

NHS spending would have to increase by £10 billion a year to match the European average, says the Institute for Fiscal Studies. That figure could be easily met if the government merely put the top rate of income tax up to the 60 percent level it was at for the first eight years of Margaret Thatcher's Tory government.

Four in five people think public services are now as bad as or worse than under the Tories.

The finding came in a MORI poll conducted for the GMB union this week. It showed 77 percent of people think things are not getting any better in schools and hospitals.

Dismal figures explain mess

The government claims it has poured billions into the health service over the last three years. Anyone who uses the health service knows that it is still hugely underfunded, with long waits for treatment, and staff and equipment shortages. The NHS is in such a dire state because of years of underfunding.

Capital spending (money invested in public buildings like hospitals) was halved by the Labour government in the 1970s from 5 percent to 2.4 percent of GDP national output.

Margaret Thatcher then slashed capital spending to just 0.4 percent of GDP by 1989. Blair has done almost nothing to change this. Capital spending remains at just 0.5 percent of GDP.

Milburn's plan is privatisation

Instead of taxing the rich to fund publicly run health facilities the government is giving a free hand to profit-hungry private firms. Just this week it invited private health firm BUPA to run and manage the first of its new NHS treatment centres.

The government plans 20 such centres-all run and managed by the private sector. It will be the first time in the history of the NHS that a private firm has run and controlled acute medical care for NHS patients. The private sector already makes a fortune by using doctors, nurses and other staff trained by the NHS and through Private Finance Initiative schemes. Now the government has opened the door for private firms to fleece the NHS even more.

Private sector operations cost twice as much as those done by the NHS. And private sector firms are notorious for providing a poorer quality of care than the NHS.

Cancer patients denied

Thousands of cancer patients are being denied the treatment they need on the NHS, says a new survey. One in six of patients who need intensive care after surgery are denied it because of the lack of beds and staff. More than one in 20 patients, many suffering life-threatening complications, had operations delayed for the same reasons.

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Sat 8 Dec 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1778
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