Bosses of global healthcare firms were licking their lips this week as the government prepared to hand the running of an NHS hospital to a private company.
Hinchingbrooke hospital in Cambridgeshire will be the first to be taken over by a non-NHS company. This is a major escalation of health service privatisation.
Campaigners’ anger grew as it became clear that the chair of one company in the bidding is bankrolling a Tory MP.
Care UK is one of five firms hoping to run the hospital. Conservative shadow health minister Andrew Lansley pocketed £21,000 after Care UK chairman, John Nash, decided to fund his personal office.
Campaigners accuse firms bidding to run Hinchingbrooke of wanting to “make a quick buck”. They say workers and patients will suffer as a result.
Martin Booth, head of Cambridge health Unison, told Socialist Worker, “Handing a whole NHS hospital to the private sector has never been done before. It is an extremely serious attack on the principles behind our public health system.
“If the profiteers get their hands on Hinchingbrooke, which they are set to do by September of this year, no other hospital will be safe.
“This is going to be a test case that could determine the future of the health service.
“What will these firms do to cut the budget deficit? They’ll slash jobs and services.”
Martin says anger at the privatisation plan is spreading.
“We’ve done stalls in Cambridge and been inundated with support,” he says. “People were queuing to sign petitions and grab leaflets.
“The campaign to save Hinchingbrooke’s accident and emergency and its maternity ward, which started more than two years ago, is reviving too.”
Writing to the local Hunts Post newspaper, local resident Jonathan Salt rightly pointed out, “We are told that the future of our accident and emergency unit is safe.
“Can we really believe that? If decisions on the running of our hospital are to be taken on the basis of profit for shareholders, how can we be sure that our casualty unit is safe?”
Martin Booth says health unions like his need to move quickly to take advantage of the mood for a fight.
“I think it is vital we launch a massive campaign. We need marches and rallies with full regional and national support. These could unite patients and health workers.”
Private health firms are hoping that, whoever wins the next election, they will be the main beneficiaries of the NHS cuts all the main parties are promising.
That makes every act of resistance to the cuts now vital.