The great NHS sell-off can be stopped
The Health and Social Care Bill, the ConDem government’s massive reform of the NHS, was voted into law in March. The Bill allows the privatisation of the whole NHS, under the rule that “any qualified provider” can be contracted to provide any NHS service. Under the smokescreen of GPs being given control of the health system, control of services and the NHS budget will be transferred to private health corporations and management consultancies. This process is now underway and is accelerating rapidly.
Eighteen community health contracts have been taken over by Virgin Healthcare. SERCO, the company which runs prisons and a large part of the justice system, is bidding to take over further contracts in the South East. Over £2 Billion pounds of NHS contracts have been put out to tender so far, and this amount is increasing daily.
There is disparity in the approach to the cuts across the country. In the South and London there has been a tendency to immediately privatise services, while Northern NHS trusts have simply scaled them back, and merged services to keep them in house. While this is preferable to outright privatisation, it is no defence from the Tories in the long term.
Andrew Lansley is changing the funding formula so that NHS funds are not allocated based on deprivation, but on life expectancy. As life expectancy is higher in less deprived areas, this will lead to a transfer of NHS funds from poorer areas, predominantly in the North, to wealthier areas in the South East. This will put further pressure on budgets already suffering under the £20 billion of cuts the government is pushing through over 4 years.
When combined with the attack on national pay which the government seeks to carry out, driving down pay for NHS staff in deprived areas (supposedly due to the lower cost of living) a crisis is being engineered in the NHS.
With both budgets for services and pay for staff being cut over the coming years, staff and patients alike will be left begging for privatisation as the only route offered by the government to save services and increase wages. This is the situation the government is trying to engineer in order to accelerate the breakup of the NHS.
These changes have already begun, but they can still be stopped. Despite the lack of coverage of this issue in the media, the widespread opposition to the bill amongst NHS staff and opposition from professional bodies like the British Medical Association (BMA) and Royal College of Nurses (RCN) has created a groundswell of public opposition to the governments NHS reforms. What has to happen is that this opposition is turned into action.
The cuts will be a key mobilising factor as crucial services and facilities are withdrawn or closed, and previously public NHS departments are privatised. While dozens of campaigns will spring up around the country as cuts start to bite, these local campaigns need to crystallise into a national movement to save the NHS. We need to build a campaign like the Stop the War movement, with local groups in every town and city, rooted into local communities carrying out regular local work, with a national centre to coordinate resistance around the country, call national days of action and protests to create a political crisis for the government.
Although its opposition to the Bill has been largely symbolic so far, pressure must be brought to bear on the Labour Party to defend the NHS, to mobilise for local protests and demand the repeal of the bill – putting trade union members’ fees to good use. UNISON has asked the TUC to call a massive demonstration against the government in the Autumn. This can become a focal point for all campaigners. Demonstrating the level of public opposition on the streets will help shatter the government’s lies that there is widespread support for their actions.
Ultimately though it will take a massive campaign built from the grassroots to stop the destruction of the NHS. We need a movement that can build links with local communities affected by the cuts, and with the healthworkers and their unions.
This kind of campaign – one which includes petitions and lobbying with unrestricted strikes, protests and direct action – can be built. Over 1.2 million people work for the NHS. Millions more use its services on a regular basis. The personnel and supporters for such a campaign are already there, but they must be organised. And an opportunity to do so is coming up.
Keep Our NHS Public and the NHS Support Federation have called a National NHS Supporters Conference to be held in London on the 23rd of June. Activists around the country should contact them and get involved in building and organising the conference. We need delegations from every town and city, from as many union branches as possible so that the conference can launch a national Save The NHS Coalition and prepare for a fight that can sink these devastating reforms, and bring down the government.
To get involved or find out more information about the conference contact: james [at] nhscampaign.org