Blair's manifesto lets it out
Labour's great NHS betrayal
- European spending pledge abandoned
- Private sector to get hospitals
A HEALTH service run for the profits of big business. That's what New Labour's election manifesto promises. Tony Blair wants to let loose the same private sector firms and managers who have brought disaster, death and chaos to the railways into every corner of the NHS. What a travesty of New Labour's promise on the eve of the last election that there were only "24 hours to save the NHS". New Labour has betrayed its promises on health and is setting a course to dismantle the very foundations of the National Health Service.
"LABOUR IS opposed to the privatisation of clinical services which is actively being promoted by the Conservatives."
- LABOUR PARTY MANIFESTO 1997
"WE WILL create a new type of hospital-specially built surgical units, managed by the NHS or the private sector-to guarantee shorter waiting times."
- LABOUR PARTY MANIFESTO 2001
The growing gap
"WE CANNOT justify putting the money into an unchanged system," Tony Blair claimed when he announced bringing in private sector managers this week. Yet New Labour has spectacularly failed to put in the money needed. No wonder the Royal College of Nurses congress jeered health minister John Denham this week. Healthcare spending in Britain still lags well behind the European Union average. As columnist Andrew Rawnsley put it in the Observer:
"He has quietly dropped the promise he made during the influenza crisis the winter before last to bring British health spending on health up to the European average within five years." Blair promised to raise health spending in Britain to 8 percent of national output by 2006. The Kings Fund health think-tank says that the European average health spending is already 9 percent, and is set to rise to 11 percent over the next five years.
THE GOVERNMENT is already pushing through the privatisation of the NHS on a scale undreamt of even in Margaret Thatcher's heyday. New Labour's Private Finance Initiative schemes mean big firms like Balfour Beatty already have their greedy hands on whole swathes of the NHS.
To make their profits they cut beds and staff, slash patient services, and make NHS staff work even longer and harder. Just last week the government sold off the jobs of the 600 Dudley strikers, who put up a magnificent nine-month battle against privatisation (see page 14).
New Labour's manifesto says it will go further and let private companies build, run and manage new "diagnostic and treatment centres".
ANGER AT the appalling state of the NHS erupted at this week's Royal College of Nursing (RCN) congress. Nurses are being forced out of the NHS in droves because of poor pay, worsening working conditions and increasing pressure.
A recent RCN survey found that over one quarter of nurses age 18 to 44 intend to leave in the next ten years. Even the Department of Health's own figures show the number of unfilled nursing vacancies has risen 43 percent over the last year despite its recruitment drive. Instead of investing in proper training and recruitment programmes, the government is recruiting nurses from the world's poorest countries.
These nurses work their guts out to provide an indispensable service for patients. But as RCN delegate Mike Walsh put it, "It is an injustice to other nations to recruit nurses from countries with their own healthcare and staffing problems."
'Sharron Storer was right,' says GP
KAMBIZ BOOMLA is a GP in east London and Socialist Alliance candidate for Poplar & Canning Town. He told Socialist Worker why Sharron Storer, the woman who confronted Blair about the state of the NHS when he visited the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham last week, was right.
"SHARRON STORER raised a number of issues about the state of the NHS. Her partner, who suffers from bone marrow cancer, had to wait in a dirty emergency unit while a bed was found. What new money there is for the NHS is going into prestige areas. The rest of the service is starved of cash. Standards of cleanliness have gone down as a direct result of privatisation. Virtually all hospitals have now contracted out cleaning to the lowest bidder. That means cutting corners. The number of beds has also been declining for the last ten to 15 years. Hospitals are running at a 90 percent occupancy rate. There is no slack to cope with even slight increases in demand for beds. The drive for efficiency savings also means hospitals try to make big cuts in areas which do not immediately affect patients. One of the first budgets to go is repair and refurbishment. It's like not painting your window frames for 20 years. They will end up rotting, costing you more to replace them. The government does not mind too much, because it can say the solution is further privatisation through PFI privatisation schemes."
WILLIAM HAGUE claimed last week that ending the ceiling on National Insurance payments could cost people an "average" 800 a year. In fact, New Labour does not even plan to end the loophole which means you don't pay any National Insurance on anything over 29,900.
But Hague's figures are rubbish anyway. If the rule was ended, you'd have to be earning at least 37,000 a year to pay 800 a year more. Someone on, say, 30,000 a year would pay just 10 a year, 19p a week, more. With just 7 percent of people on more than 30,000, the vast majority of people would not be affected at all.
Retreat on Section 28
THE NEW Labour manifesto does not contain a commitment to abolish the anti-gay Section 28 law. Tories in the House of Lords blocked moves to scrap it during the last parliament. The fact that abolition of Section 28 was not in the 1997 manifesto helped the bigots' campaign to keep it. Blair is opening the door for the same thing to happen again.
Others speak out too
SHARRON STORER was not the only person to speak out last week against New Labour's NHS failure.
- Doctors at the Bristol Royal Infirmary attacked the government's "short term fix" for heart surgery.
The heart surgeons said that 15 patients from their hospital have died while waiting for NHS heart operations. Franco Ciulli, head of cardiotheoracic services, said, "The longer the waiting lists are, the more deaths you will get. The easy solution to the problem is more beds, more nurses and more facilities."
- Consultant surgeon Nicholas Packer from Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn, Norfolk, confronted Tony Blair when he visited the hospital last week. "We feel the standard of care we give the patients is not as good as it should be," he told Blair. "If we don't get the resources to deal with real needs, it is demoralising for people."
NHS WAITING lists in Scotland have risen by more than 6 percent since Labour came to power. The Scotsman newspaper revealed that a "hidden" waiting list, which includes patients who have had treatment delayed, had disguised the true figures. Since 1997 an extra 5,623 patients have joined the deferred list.
Keep the tube public
Saturday 2 June Assemble 1pm, Embankment tube, London
Called by the RMT union