Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Privatisation, cuts and job losses in the NHS

The department of health says this year’s NHS budget is ‘ring fenced’, that is not subject to cuts but it has to make £20 billion of ‘efficiency savings’. However, Monitor, the regulator of NHS trusts in England warns this is an underestimate. It says health bosses must now slash their spending by 7% a year not the 4% previously expected. The nurses’ RCN union has identified almost 40,000 NHS posts across Britain that face being lost – up from the 27,000 it reported in November. That figure could now go much higher.

Hull and East Yorkshire NHS Trust last week admitted it would be cutting 300 beds (or 20% of the total) and closing 10 wards in an attempt to save £95 million by 2015. Patients across Britain are being denied new hips, weight loss operations and even cancer treatment due to the cuts. NHS waiting times have reached their highest level in England for three years. In February, nearly 15% of hospital in-patients waited more than 18 weeks for treatment, the highest level since 2008, according to the King’s Fund. The proportion of patients waiting more than four hours in A&E was at its highest level for five years. Yet 18 out of 26 NHS finance directors questioned said they were uncertain they can meet the government’s ‘savings’ target. Many admitted they plan to attack the terms and conditions of health workers. In addition to the three year pay freeze already implemented, they now want to end annual incremental pay increases.

The Health and Social Care Bill
This is currently ‘paused’ on its journey through parliament as a result of the outcry from health workers and the public. The bill would give private healthcare multinationals the right to make profit out of the health service. The job of handling 80% of the NHS budget will be given to GP consortia when they take over the job of ‘commissioning healthcare’ from the primary care trusts. However, the likelihood is that this work will be ‘outsourced’ and will also end up in the hands of healthcare multinationals. They will also run services that compete against those provided by the NHS in a bid to undercut them.

What health professionals say
Dr Mark Porter, chairman of the doctors’ BMA union has said that privatisation plans could “turn the clock back to the 1930s”—when the poor could rarely afford healthcare and were forced to rely on charity. He lambasted health secretary Andrew Lansley’s health and social care bill, saying the plans could result in the closure of hospitals and see some patients denied care by private providers because they are too expensive to treat.

Local cuts
At Treliske Hospital, the work equivalent of 400 posts are to be cut, which could mean up to double that number in workers being sacked. Staff already work under immense pressure due to increasing workloads. The 5000 staff members have been told by the trust’s board that operating costs have to be cut by £26 million in the next financial year and there must be savings of £19 million. There is an unconfirmed rumour that the doctor-led cover for the casualty unit (currently day and evening) is to be removed at West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance.

There will be protests around the country against the health secretary’s plans for the NHS including a major protest in London on Tuesday 17 May. There is a protest at Treliske Hospital on Saturday 14 May at 1pm. There will then be a march to Lemon Quay for a vigil with Save Our NHS (Cornwall) at 2pm. There is a lobby of local MP Andrew George meeting at West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance at 9:45am on Friday 20 May. There is a meeting of Penzance Anti-Cuts Alliance at the Crown pub at the bottom of Bread Street at 7pm on Wednesday 25 May. Everyone is welcome to come along and discuss what can be done to campaign against privatisation, cuts and job losses in the NHS as well as in our schools, Cornwall Council, children’s services, Royal Mail and so on.

When the NHS was founded in 1948 the national debt was almost 240% of GDP (it is currently around 50%). Tory spending cuts are a class attack, making the working class pay for a crisis created by bankers and politicians. The bankers are still getting massive payouts. The capitalist system went into recession, freezing the financial system and hurling millions into unemployment. Governments across the world stepped in to hand thousands of billions to bankers. In Britain they received £1.4 trillion. Now the bills for the crisis are being paid—not by those who caused the mess, but by its victims.

Thrown on the dole by the recession? Now you must get less. Disabled or sick? Now you must be hounded by assessment teams and driven on to lower benefits. Working on an average wage? Now you must abandon hope of a decent pension and see your pay frozen or cut. Rents will rise, but council tenants also face being thrown out of their homes if they pass an income threshold handed down by a cabinet of millionaires. Not only will colleges be cut, but education will be driven towards what business leaders want taught. There’s privatisation of the Royal Mail and of the core of the NHS. There are academies and other elite schools instead of comprehensives. And there’s a relentless ideological assault to define who are—and who are not—the “deserving poor”.

Labour is right to point out that the cuts threaten a new recession. It is economic lunacy that when cuts deepen a downturn, it leads to calls for more cuts. But these attacks cannot be opposed by an argument based on what is best for the bosses’ economy. This is not a technical matter of economic policies, it is a political choice. It is about the Tories’ ideological embrace of class war. We must embrace it too – from our side. The ruling class across Europe is watching carefully for the outcome—learning from one another, and urging each other on. Workers must do the same.

We need the biggest possible support for every protest, every lobby and every group of workers who strike, especially on 30 June when PCS, NUT, UCU, ATL and others may be striking together.

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