Health workers and campaigners in Oxfordshire have won an important battle against privatisation.
They have forced the Thames Valley Health Authority to postpone plans to put the commissioning of primary care across the area — worth £600 million — out to tender.
One likely bidder for the contract was United Health.
This is a US healthcare corporation whose international president, Simon Stephens, is a former health adviser to the prime minister.
The chair of the Oxfordshire health branch of the Unison union, Mark Ladbrooke, welcomed the retreat.
He told Socialist Worker, “This is a victory that shows what can be done when rank and file workers take the lead and pull unions, NHS users and even political parties together to oppose privatisation.”
He added that a demonstration set for this Saturday would still go ahead.
This is part of the health workers’ plans to “step up the fight against cuts and privatisation”.
The plans for Oxfordshire were the most extreme version of the government’s plans for Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), which provide basic health services and commission treatment for patients.
PCTs receive three quarters of the NHS’s budget.
Initially these plans, published in July, included transferring 250,000 health workers employed by PCTs out of the NHS.
Anger from NHS staff and users, academics, GPs, unions and MPs forced health secretary Patricia Hewitt to retreat from this element of the plan.
However, the government still plans to merge many PCTs in a cost cutting measure.
This is likely to be accompanied by further attempts to privatise health services.
East Surrey PCT was set to decide on Tuesday of this week whether the 750 district nurses and therapists it currently employs should become a private company.
Under the plan an employee-owned company, Central Surrey Healthcare, would be formed. This would sell its services, worth £22 million a year, back to the PCT.
The attempts by the government to impose neo-liberal measures on PCTs was criticised by the respected Centre for International Public Health Policy last week.
A briefing from the centre argued that “the creation of a marketised NHS is resulting in the loss of area and population planning for services and local needs assessments for services”.
It added that changes would make the NHS less efficient and equitable, as well as impairing the quality of treatment.
For more on health campaigning go to www.keepourNHSpublic.com