On 6 and 7 September a revised Health and Social Care Bill has its third reading in Parliament amid talk of a backbench Lib Dem rebellion and leaked documents outlining the Tories’ secret plans to sell off hospitals to multinational corporations.
Under political pressure last April, the Tories postponed the third reading for a “listening exercise”. But the bill has come back with little substantive change.
Despite protestations from health secretary Andrew Lansley that the Tories would “never, never privatise the NHS”, a freedom of information request has revealed that plans are underway to sell up to 20 hospitals to the private sector.
The Bill will:
• remove the statutory duty on the secretary of state to provide “a comprehensive health service for the people of England, free at the point of need” giving individual GP-run consortia the power to decide what they offer free on the NHS;
• give power to regulatory body Monitor to promote competition and the private sector;
• remove the cap on the number of private patient beds;
• give control of NHS budgets to private companies who will now do commissioning on behalf of GP consortia.
These proposals are also intended to help the NHS make £20 billion “efficiency” savings by 2015. In fact, they will have the opposite effect, with more NHS money finding its way into private hands and being squandered on administrating this fragmented system.
While a legislative framework to sell off the NHS is put in place, the cuts are undermining the NHS as a world-class health service and creating a market for the private sector. There have been large increases in waiting times and some trusts are now refusing patients some elective treatments.
Andrew George, a Lib Dem MP may now lead a backbench rebellion, saying the bill is “driven more by private profit than by concern about patient care.” If the Bill reaches the House of Lords then Shirley Williams and other Liberal peers have signalled they will oppose.
When the NHS was created in 1948 it was the achievement of decades of working-class struggle. It signalled that the working-class movement had won a significant argument that the values of social solidarity and equality were more important than capitalist parasitism. That movement won important reforms but these only managed to civilise capitalism, they did not fundamentally change the system. Now, over 60 years later, the capitalist class is attempting to reverse those gains.
Liberal Democrat politicians may be of some help in the immediate battle to defeat the Health and Social Care Bill.
But we need to rebuild a mass working-class movement to fight for our values of solidarity and equality and maintain the NHS as a free, comprehensive service.
• For more information see: pcwww.liv.ac.uk/~alexss/nhs.pdf