“The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with faith to fight for it” – probably there are more people arguing about which politician misquoted which here than there are seriously fighting for the NHS – but whoever said it, the statement appears to be true. No matter what else changes, most British people are proud of their NHS and know it’s invaluable. Even Mrs Thatcher, in the midst of her drive to bring “competition” into all our services (ie, sell them), said that the British people would not tolerate the privatisation of our NHS.
So why is the NHS in danger? Why didn’t everyone join the Progressive Alliance to protect it from those who would sell it? The NHS unions and politicians of the left seem convinced that you can ‘never trust a Tory with the NHS’ but there are no FOR SALE signs visible anywhere and Theresa May herself promised a further £8 billion for the NHS so where’s the evidence?
The problem, according to Madeleine Dickens and John Donovon, speakers at a meeting called by the Hastings Trades Council this week (July 2017) is sustainability and transformation partnerships. Formerly known as ‘sustainability and transformation plans’, often presented under the title of ‘Better Together’ (because it sounds nicer), it is a project to combine health and social care services. Sounds like a sensible idea, doesn’t it? And so it would be, said HBC councillor Mike Turner – if the services were going to be funded properly.
But the funds aren’t there – our own hospital in Hastings is £42 million in the red and, when “failing” institutions are closed or merged, the “leftover” buildings and lands get sold. That leaves the remaining, reduced service struggling to cope – it is judged, found wanting, and forced to give way to commercial provision. It’s hard sometimes to remember what a ridiculous concept NHS “debt” is. Hospitals aren’t meant to make money – they aren’t even meant to be self-funding. We pay for them out of our taxes, don’t we? If you talk to most people about it, they’ll say ‘oh well, people are living longer and costing more’ or, ‘we have “health tourists” who don’t pay taxes coming over here using expensive services” or, ‘we pay too many greedy managers and not enough nurses’.
But none of those worries, justified or not, get to the root of the problem. Since its founding in the 1950s until very recently, governments used to raise NHS funding around 4% a year. In recent years, this has dropped to 0.8% a year. Hospitals are quite suddenly drastically underfunded, and so they go into deficit. And they must, under the STP regime, find ways to save money and get out of debt – but they can’t, because the organisation they owe the money to won’t give any quarter – they have to pay interest on the debt, so they fall further into the red.
What is this evil organisation they owe money to, that is now demanding that they shape up and sell out to commercial companies in order to pay their debts? It is our government. Yes, our government is doing to our hospitals exactly what they did to the railway companies – driving them into confusion and debt then when we see the inevitable chaos that causes, we get angry and demand action, so they come up with “rescue plans” – “special measures” that involve parcelling up and selling off NHS land and buildings – or “leasing” their resources and equipment to commercial companies.
Why would they do such a thing? “Defend Sussex NHS” campaigner Val Knight explains: there have been US business consultants working on undercover privatisation plans since the Blair (public-private-finance) years. They are doing so because in the States, private health care has turned out to be even more lucrative than the arms industry. British politicians who are willing to allow private companies into the NHS are an irresistible lure to US healthcare companies. What’s in it for the British? We all know by now that some politicians have, or have had, financial interest in private health care firms. Jonathan quoted from a recent study of politicians’ investments that showed most Conservative politicians, a majority of Lib Dems and more than a few Labour ones have investments of one sort or another in private health care.
This is a problem that’s been creeping up on us since the 1980s say the campaigners, and the reason it wasn’t an even larger force in the election is that since Thatcher’s warning, they have worked out that you can’t “sell” the NHS openly – people would revolt. You must take the clandestine route Chomsky described: “That’s the standard technique of privatization:” he said, “defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.”
Remember that £8 billion Theresa May promised for the NHS? That wasn’t to pay for your operation or my hearing aids, it wasn’t even to help our hospitals get out of debt – it was for “STP” – to be spent on parcelling up bits of NHS property and turning them into saleable businesses.
Never forget, corporate businesses are obliged to try and get your money off you. Until we have a sufficiently honest government to change corporate law, businesses are obliged to seek the maximum return for their shareholders. Healthcare businesses are duty-bound to spend as little as possible on you and put as much as possible into their shareholders’ pockets – and healthcare is a sufficiently lucrative arena that it’s well worth their while to cultivate politicians and the media so they can creep away quietly with the necessary assets. It will continue until and unless people understand what is happening, stand up and say ‘no’.
So far, not enough people are taking a stand. “Better Together” sounds nice. Clever business people taking over failing services sounds like a good idea. As for politicians, “they’re all the same” – why listen to their concerns? – But even those who have seen the danger can be slow to react. Val said that the task seems overwhelming. ‘How can I save the NHS?’ – you can’t – no one person can – but if you write to your MP and your councillors, if you talk to your GP about it, if you refuse to be referred to a private practitioner instead of an NHS consultant, or display a “defend the NHS” poster and tell your neighbours about the danger, you might just inspire one or two people more to do the same thing and if they do it too… Remember the “Dementia Tax”? Remember the government’s decision to scrap most people’s winter fuel allowances? They didn’t do either of those in the end because too many people had realised they were being robbed, stood up and said ‘no’.
A mass of people can do what one person can’t, and being one of many isn’t that hard. Please speak up for your NHS today.
For more info/sources, visit http://defendthenhssussex.weebly.com
or look for Lucy Reynolds on YouTube.