Socialist Worker

An assault on the very basis of the NHS

by Gill George, Amicus union national executive member (pc) and health worker
Issue No. 1969

The last Tory government used to fantasise about privatising the whole of the National Health Service. Tony Blair is fulfilling the Tories’ maddest dreams.

The plan now seems to be to dismantle the whole of the NHS, and to sell off the fragments to the highest bidder.

The nastiest of the proposals is to privatise “primary care” in England. This is local community health services, the services people use most.

This isn’t just GPs. It also includes health visitors, district nurses, psychologists and counsellors, school nurses, and dieticians. These essential services are set to be broken up.

At the moment, all of these services are provided by NHS organisations called primary care trusts. They are the NHS equivalent of local government.

They are accountable at least to an extent to local people. In the future, this simple approach to providing health care will not be allowed.

The plan is that all of these clinical staff will be forced to apply for jobs in the private or voluntary sectors (or in some cases with the foundation trusts that are run pretty much like competing businesses).

Competition—or the latest buzzword “contestability” — apparently means now that the NHS will not be allowed to provide clinical care.

Profit, not patient care, will be the driving force in the future. And this is only one strand to Labour’s all-out assault on the NHS and NHS workers.

The primary care organisations are required to deliver a 15 percent cut in administration costs almost immediately. Half of the primary care trusts will be closed, even if they’re doing an excellent job. Many health workers will lose their jobs.

The hated foundation trusts policy is to be rolled out even further — with every hospital becoming one by 2008.

This puts the Tory internal market at the heart of the NHS, and allows big business to take over huge chunks of healthcare

The government claims to have given record funding to the NHS — but much of this has had strings attached, and much of it has been siphoned off into the growing array of contracts with the private sector.

The NHS has hit financial crisis, with hospital wards closing up and down the country. The campaigning group Health Emergency has identified a funding gap of at least £1.6 billion.

Protest meetings are springing up around the country. In a typical meeting, health workers in Hackney, east London, met to plan a local campaign. Anger and confidence were high.

In Bristol, a public meeting on Keep our NHS Public will take place next week. Similar meetings are planned in Oxford and Manchester. There has been a demonstration of over 5,000 people in Peterborough. These need to be the beginnings of a mass campaign.

Things are shifting nationally too. The attack on primary care is a breach of the Warwick agreement between the Labour Party and the union leaders before the general election.

There is pressure on the unions to fight at national level. That’s why the TUC conference passed an emergency resolution against the reorganisation of primary care last week.

This month will see the launch of a high profile Keep Our NHS Public campaign, backed by prominent doctors, campaigners, academics, MPs and trade unionists.

This is a fight for all of us, not just for health workers. In every locality we have to move now to set up local groups, hold meetings, lobby MPs, organise demonstrations and so on.


NHS protests

Protests are springing up as the NHS faces its greatest financial crisis. NHS trusts face a £1.6 billion shortfall, which they must claw back by April next year.

Many smaller local hospitals and health facilities are being threatened by health bosses. Last Friday saw 550 people attend a packed meeting in Felixstowe, Suffolk, where cuts could mean the closure of Bartlet Hospital.

Two hundred protested in Bicester near Oxford last weekend to oppose the closure of the local community hospital.

A new organisation — Keep Our NHS Public — involving academics, MPs and trade unions, is being launched to try to strengthen and provide resources for local campaigns.

For more information go to www.keepournhspublic.com


Cambridge

Health workers held a rally in Cambridge’s market square last Saturday to begin a campaign over cuts to mental health services.

The mental health trust is aiming to claw back £1 million over the next three years. It plans to close at least two wards.

The wards being targeted are used by patients who are being very gradually brought back into the community.

Health union officials, the Liberal Democrat MP and Tom Woodcock, who stood locally for Respect in the general election, all addressed the rally.

Unison union steward Steve Sweeney said, “I work in mental health. We are seeing two wards threatened for financial reasons.

“New Labour say they are giving more money to the NHS. We wonder where this money is going because it doesn’t seem to get to front line services.”


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Sat 24 Sep 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1969
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