Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, has called for politicians to “decisively answer” how social care can be reorganised to deal with the problems exposed by the Covid-19 crisis.
Stevens is no left-winger. He spent the best part of a decade as Chief Executive of US private healthcare corporation United Health. He has defended and promoted privatisation in the NHS. But so glaring is the problem of a radically fractured and privatised social care system that in his interview with the BBC he hinted at some kind of public ownership:
“ If you take back the history coming out of the Second World War, the country at that point was on austerity. We had rationing for bread and potatoes. The founders of the NHS did not use that as a moment to hesitate, they said, ‘Let one of the legacies of the war be the creation of the NHS’. That’s the same legacy we need for long-term care support in social care coming out of coronavirus.”
The government has responded with waffle that makes clear it intends very little to change: “there are complex questions to address… We will bring forward a plan that puts social care on a sustainable footing”.
A big problem for challenging this is Labour. Far from responding with a ringing call for public ownership and provision of care, Keir Starmer and Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds replied to Stevens with their own waffle. Starmer: “The system needs a huge amount of work — it has been broken for a long time. I think it has been fractured, it’s been underfunded, I think staff have been undervalued and underpaid, and the prime minister needs to take responsibility.”
Asked explicitly whether she’d support public ownership, Dodds refused to say.
This is despite the fact that Labour conference voted unanimously for a publicly-owned care system last year.
We need a fight in the Labour Party and labour movement to build a real campaign for public ownership. That is the only serious answer to the question Simon Stevens has posed.
• 76% want the NHS reinstated as a fully public service, 15% want continued private involvement. 78% want the NHS to receive more public funding to deliver services, 11% want more money for private providers — Survation poll for We Own It campaign, July 2020