Socialist Worker

NHS in danger

Issue No. 1751

Labour election broadcast dad slams Blair on health

NHS in danger

By Hazel Croft

"LABOUR HAS sold its soul." That is how John Bennett summed up the way millions of voters feel about New Labour's betrayal over the NHS. John is the father of the young girl who appeared in Labour's famous "Jennifer's Ear" broadcast in the 1992 general election.

The broadcast sought to use people's fury at what the then Tory government was doing to the NHS to boost support for Labour. Last week John Bennett gave a passionate condemnation of New Labour's record on health.

"Frankly very little has changed," he told BBC Radio 4. "What Neil Kinnock [then Labour's leader] said in 1992 is etched into my mind: 'If you want to vote Conservative, don't fall ill.' Well, the chickens are coming home to roost for New Labour. As a former Labour voter I feel ashamed. I will never vote Labour again. In the case of care for the elderly they have put profit over principle. Care is run on a for-profit basis. The Labour government and the Labour Party have turned their backs on the 700,000 elderly people in care in this country. It's a scandal of major proportions. The government has raised money on stealth taxes which have hit the poor more than the rich. The only way the government can properly fund the health service is through direct taxation. We will still be hearing the same excuses in four years time. Meanwhile lots of people are not getting a fair deal out of the health service. I'm appalled by it."

New Labour's health betrayal is causing similar anger and disgust right across Britain. GPs are in uproar at the state of health services. The doctors' British Medical Association says the NHS is "on the edge of the abyss". Health workers and patients alike are furious over New Labour's plans to hand large parts of the NHS to profit making corporations.

Millions of people have been left suffering for months on NHS waiting lists. Some are so desperate they are forced to pay for private operations they can't afford. We need to tell Tony Blair enough is enough.


"WE WANT the best for our patients, and we feel very frustrated that a lot of our work is nothing to do with treating patients. It's like banging your head against a brick wall. You have government by spin-words, words, words. To give you a good example, you may have a consultant clinic of 70 patients with 30 emergencies waiting on trolleys. That is called "good throughput". It's called bad medicine as far as we are concerned."

  • DR TOM FREWIN, Bristol

GPs 'at end of tether'

OVER 86 percent of family doctors have voted to take industrial action in a national ballot organised by the British Medical Association (BMA). GPs are furious at intolerable workloads caused by government initiatives and the dire state of the NHS. The BMA says Britain is short of 10,000 GPs. New Labour has promised to recruit just 2,000 by 2005, and 900 of those were already due to be trained anyway. Things are set to get worse, with one third of GPs saying that they intend to retire early.

GPs face added pressure because increasingly people are discharged from hospital earlier because of lack of beds. Some 12,000 NHS beds were axed between 1997 and 2000. Yet there is no new money to treat patients adequately at home. New Labour's 60-plus new Private Finance Initiative schemes will make a bad situation intolerable.

The first 14 PFI hospitals have resulted in a 30 percent cut in beds. GPs have now threatened to tear up their NHS contracts in one year's time if the government refuses to negotiate. As Dr Hamish Meddrum, deputy chair of the British Medical Association GPs' committee, put it, "The message of this ballot could not be clearer or louder. "The result demonstrates the depth of disenchantment, despair and disillusion felt by GPs throughout the UK. Regrettably they dramatically confirm what we have been telling governments for years-that general practice is at the end of its tether."$ The average GP:

  • Has less than eight minutes with each patient, "not nearly enough time to listen, to examine, to explain and to discuss treatment options," says Dr Peter Hawker of the British Medical Association.
  • Sees more than 40 or 50 patients a day.
  • Spends two to three hours a day on paperwork generated by government initiatives.

Waiting to get on the waiting list

"CUT NHS waiting lists by 100,000" was Tony Blair's "priority pledge" four years ago. He and his New Labour government have betrayed even that minimal pledge. The number of people waiting for treatment has gone up by 27,000.

The government claims that the official "waiting list" has been cut by 125,000. But the number of people waiting to see a consultant-in other words, waiting simply in order to get on the official NHS waiting list-has risen by 152,000. And that doesn't take into account the length of time people spend, often in great pain and anxiety, waiting for treatment.

No wonder an opinion poll last week found that 40 percent of people in Britain would consider using private healthcare to avoid the wait. These aren't all rich people with private medical insurance.

They are people like 63 year old pensioner Ann Jennings, who ran up a credit card bill of �8,000 to pay for a hip replacement operation. Ann, who also has leukemia, borrowed money to pay for the operation. She had been waiting for over two years to get the operation she needed. She said, "I have been in agony. I know that if I had not done it I could not have carried on. I have had to spend everything. I cannot sleep now thinking about how I will pay my friend back. I might have to sell the house outright." Most people, however, cannot afford even to borrow money to pay for private operations.

But New Labour's drive to privatisation will leave more and more people either getting into debt or being left in pain without treatment. That is why it is so important that we build on the fight to defend the NHS and kick the privateers out of our health service.


"SEVENTY women seen in a busy breast clinic is not quality. Twenty new emergency admissions per day, patients being moved from ward to ward, stored on trolleys even if they are designated beds-that's not quality."

  • DR PETER HAWKER, of the British Medical Association, on the government's claim to treat patients with cancer within two weeks

Avoidable tragedy

THE HUMAN cost of New Labour's refusal to adequately fund the NHS was shown in the tragic case of Edith Palmer last week. Edith, who was 78 years old, died after she was sent home with painkillers from University Hospital in Wales.

She had spent five hours "curled up in agony" in a waiting room at the hospital after being knocked down by a luggage trolley at Cardiff airport. After her long wait she was given a brief consultation and then sent home with painkillers and a leaflet on back pain. She died just a few hours after being sent home.


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Article information

News
Sat 9 Jun 2001, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1751
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