Mark Porter, chair of the hospital consultants’ committee of the British Medical Association, has warned that: “Very deliberately, the government wishes to turn back the clock to the 1930s and 1940s, when there were private, charitable, and cooperative providers of healthcare."
“But the system failed to provide comprehensive and universal service... That’s why health was nationalised. But they’re proposing to go back to the days before the NHS”.
Already the Thatcher and Blair governments have damaged the Health Service by bringing more and more market economics into it. This cabinet of millionaires plans to make a drastic and maybe decisive further step: all NHS hospitals will become units in a market economy, competing with each other and with private companies for contracts with GP consortia.
That disrupts the health service because private firms will be able to destabilise NHS hospitals by outbidding them on easy-to-treat conditions, and leave them as a patchy and “increasingly tattered safety-net” for patients with difficult, long-term, but common illnesses like diabetes and heart problems.
At the other “end of the market”, the Government’s plans will encourage the rise of luxury provision for rich people who’ll pay extra. There will be “Fortnum and Mason” health care for some and “Lidl” health care for others.
The Government says its plans are about “choice” and efficiency. That is a lie. The plans are about profit openings for private health firms, and cutting public spending.
Spending on the Health Service, as on all public services, is being cut back to cover the costs of the slump created by the bankers’ crisis of 2008, and the huge taxpayer subsidies given to banks then to bail them out and stop the crisis becoming a full-scale collapse.
The banks got £11,000 billion then — £18,000 for each child, woman, and man in the UK — in buy-outs, loans, and guarantees. Now the banks are making profits again, and paying big bonuses, maybe £7 billion in the current round, to the highest-paid bankers. And the Government is making cuts, huge in relation to the services being cut, but modest sums in relation to the bankers’ wealth, to balance the books.
Porter’s warning, on 6 March, reflects a wider alarm among doctors. On 17 February, a London meeting of the usually very conservative BMA voted to end a policy of “critical engagement” with the Government and moved to outright opposition.
It called for poll of BMA members on industrial action to stop the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill.
The unions, and especially the unions organising most health service workers, Unison and Unite, should catch up with the BMA.
In the labour movement, even in activist anti-cuts committees, the planned Health Service cuts and changes have been overshadowed by the faster and more straightforward cuts in local government and the civil service, and the changes in public sector pensions.
But the health service is, directly, a matter of life and death for us all. We all get old. We all get ill.
At last the unions have begun to move against the cuts, calling a demonstration in London on 26 March. Workers’ Liberty and other activists will organise to make 26 March a springboard for industrial action to stop the cuts, and not just an exercise in letting off steam.