More than 80 NHS campaigners met on 21 March at the Unite union offices in London, on the initiative of Health Alarm, to discuss coordination for the defence of the NHS after the Health and Social Care Bill passed through Parliament on 20 March.
Speakers included Wendy Savage from Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) and Helen McFarlane from Unite.
Campaigner after campaigner spoke of their determination to continue the fight to save the NHS. A recurring demand was for a national demonstration in defence of the NHS: the day before, 20 March, the Unite executive had resolved to call on the TUC to organise it. The meeting discussed how to make this happen and how to put pressure on the TUC. Campaigners are also keen to protest against the private profiteers such as Serco, Virgin and Circle.
Some supporters of the Act have warned that implementing it will be difficult in face of the wide public opposition. We can certainly make it difficult, and make it politically impossible for the next Labour government to do other than keep Andy Burnham’s promise to reverse “marketisation” under the Act.
The Act allows NHS hospitals to increase the income they get from treating private patients from 2% to 49%. How many hospitals will do that depends on our campaigning.
On 1 March, South West London KONP organised a demonstration against plans by St George’s Hospital, Tooting, to spend £100,000 a year on a “Private Patients Development Manager”. Similar protests should be organised at hospitals across the country.
From the meeting campaigners will be establishing a Liaison Committee for Rebuilding the NHS. There will be a planning meeting of the Liaison Committee on Saturday 31 March: for details call Rosie on 07734 088 243.
Within days of the Heath and Social Care Bill being passed in the Commons, it was announced that Serco had won a £140 million deal from NHS Suffolk. 1,000 NHS workers will be transferred to the company.
Serco provides second-rate service and lousy workers’ rights, but big profits for shareholders. It had an annual operating revenue of £3 billion in 2009. In 2010 it reported an annual increase in pre-tax profits of 34% to £194.7 million. The company employs 100,000 people worldwide.
It runs large parts of what should be or were public services. It is the largest air traffic control company. As well as moving people Serco stops people moving. It is the largest operator of private prisons in Britain. It also provides intelligence to the UK Border Agency and runs an Immigration Removal Centre.
It runs out-of-hours children’s services, London’s cycle hire scheme, London’s Docklands Light Railway, Northern Rail, and Merseyrail train networks. It has a six-year contract to run Ofsted. It looks after Britain’s nuclear arsenal.
85-90% of Serco’s workforce are former public service employers. How many of Serco’s workforce are unionised is hard to establish, but with a workforce of 100,000 across the world, there is potential for international solidarity.
Serco is run by two multi-millionaires, Kevin Beeston and Chris Hyman. Hyman is a born-again Christian. He says: “My whole life, I believe, is driven by God… I’m no genius, what I’m successful for is listening to God”.
Serco’s head office is in Richmond, Surrey — a pleasant day out for a protest. Watch this space.
“The Health and Social Care Act is a public health catastrophe. It ends the NHS as we know it. It is the end of a NHS that provides healthcare to all across the country on the basis of need and not on the ability to pay”.
This is the verdict of Allyson Pollock, Professor of Public Health at Queen Mary University London.
“Liberating the NHS” was the name of the White Paper that preceded the Health and Social Care Act which was passed through Parliament on 20 March in the face of huge opposition from doctors, other health workers, and the public. The Government will now set about “liberating the NHS” from the principle of free healthcare at the point of need.
David Price, senior research fellow at Queen Mary University London, says: “This law is not about ‘cost efficiency’. It’s ideological, it’s about the welfare state. The government is saying the NHS is no longer sustainable, yet we are richer than ever before... The NHS was conceived of and its architecture designed in the 1940s when Britain was bankrupt, and it was designed to be the most cost efficient health service possible...
“Competition will fragment care and erode trust between patients and the medical profession and within the profession itself. Patients in the future will not know if a doctor is saying this is the best treatment or that is the best drug for commercial reasons or clinical reasons...
“The cap on advertising is being lifted and money that would have been used for health care will now be used by the new bodies set up as a result of the new law to advertise their services in competition with other service providers”.
Pollock says that “research shows that of all the (healthcare) systems in the world the NHS is the most efficient… the government has failed to produce any evidence in support of their major changes around competition and marketisation of the NHS. The NHS is funded primarily through our taxes, we all pay for it and we all use it...
“The government wants to move away from tax funding, which is very fair, to a mixed system of funding, like in America, where the government pays and we increasingly have to pay out of pocket, either through user charges or through taking out more and more private health insurance. That’s the big story behind this law...”
Doctors who oppose the Health and Social Care Act have drafted a statement of principle that GPs and local campaigners can press their Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to adopt.
“This CCG will uphold the principle of ‘First do no harm’: we will take no action and adopt no policy that might undermine our patients’ continued access to existing local health services that they need, trust and rely upon.
“In the spirit of clinically-led commissioning, we reserve entirely the right to decide whom we contract with to provide services for our patients. We will take those decisions on the basis of the best interests of our patients and wider local communities, and we will refuse to allow Any Qualified Provider to be imposed on us from above.
“In the interests of transparency we will not engage in any contracts that impose conditions of commercial confidentiality. Once agreed and signed the contract should be open to public scrutiny.
“We will also work an open-book basis with providers and joint commissioners. We will also consult local communities before implementing any changes that affect them, and our Board will make all major decisions relating to services in public session.”
More than one in four of the Conservative peers who voted for the Health and Social Care Bill have personal interests in insurance companies, private health-care, and private equity groups, and stand to profit from “marketisation” of the NHS. And not just Tories: Lord Carter, a Labour peer who is head of the new Competition and Cooperation Panel supposed to regulate the NHS, is an adviser to Warburg Pincus International Ltd, a private equity firm with significant investments in the healthcare industry, and was founder of Westminster Health Care, a leading private nursing home company.
* More here.
29 March. Camden KONP protest, 1.30pm, at the NHS North and Central London Board meeting, St Pancras Hospital, 4 St Pancras Way, NW1 0PE
29 March. Hackney Coalition to Save the NHS meeting, 7.30pm, Stamford Hill Library, 120 Stamford Hill, N16 6QT
5 April, 12-2pm, noisy protest at Circle Healthcare head office, 32 Welbeck Street, W1G 8EU. Called by Health Alarm
7 April. “Save the NHS” demo, Barnsley. Assemble 9.30am Churchfields, rally in Peel Square
23 June. KONP national conference, Friends Meeting House, Euston.
More: Health Alarm