Friday, 9 September 2011

The NHS is not for sale

The vote on the third reading of the Health and Social Care Bill resulted in a resounding 'yes'. Now the bill will go to the House of Lords. Rumours of the Liberal Democrat backbench rebellion were obviously hugely exaggerated. In the end only four Lib Dem MPs voted against the bill (Julian Huppert, Greg Mulholland, Andrew George and Adrian Sanders) with ten abstentions.

One of the those Lib Dem MPs that voted against the bill, Andrew George, held a meeting in Penzance in his constituency last week which attracted over two hundred people. The meeting was hosted by George himself and the platform also contained Dr Mark McCartney, on behalf of the British Medical Association and also a GP at Pensilva in South East Cornwall; Stuart Bonar, Parliamentary Officer of the Royal College of Midwives; and Dr Colin Philip, GP lead for the proposed Clinical Commissioning Group (Kernow Clinical Commissioning) which will take over from the local Primary Care Trust (PCT) when the Government’s policy is enacted. He is also a GP at the Stennack Surgery in St Ives.

Despite being dominated by the top table, with little opportunity for members of the public to speak, the meeting was encouraging given the turnout and the mood of the meeting. However, all the speakers were white men and all were riven with pessimism and political naivety. When asked if this was the end of the NHS, all speakers said it was not and one speaker laughed and said there is no way the Conservatives would privatise the NHS. Oh really?

Colin Leys, academic and co-author of The Plot Against the NHS, wrote an article for the Guardian yesterday. In it he explains how the government's ultimate aim is indeed to privatise the NHS. He says,
"The bill will end the NHS as a comprehensive service equally available to all. People with limited means will have a narrowing range of free services of declining quality, and will once again face long waits for elective care. Everyone else will go back to trying to find money for private insurance and private care. More and more NHS hospital beds will be occupied by private patients."
He goes on to say "What we are witnessing is the completion of a project begun some 25 years ago to restore healthcare to private enterprise. The key players have not been MPs but private healthcare companies and consultancies like McKinsey and KPMG." Indeed Lord Howe, a junior health minister in the Lords, told an independent sector conference that the NHS reforms present 'huge opportunities' for private companies. This echoes comments made by Mark Britnell, a senior adviser to David Cameron, back in May that there would be a chance to make huge profits from the NHS and that it will be transformed into a "state insurance provider, not a state deliverer" of care. According to the Guardian,
"Britnell, a former director of commissioning for the NHS, who is now head of health at the accountancy giant KPMG, was invited to join a group of senior health policy experts, described by the respected Health Service Journal as a "kitchen cabinet", in Downing Street earlier this month... In unguarded comments at a conference in New York organised by the private equity company Apax, Britnell claimed that the next two years in the UK would provide a "big opportunity" for the for-profit sector, and that the NHS would ultimately end up as a financier of care similar to an insurance company rather than a provider of hospitals and staff."
On Monday of this week Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance showed Michael Moore's film 'SiCKO' at the Ritz, Penzance. The film demonstrates the horror of the privatised healthcare system in America. It also contrasts it with the NHS and shows what a great system we have by comparison. Of course the film was made a few years ago and is now a demonstration of what we stand to lose. Thirty-two people watched the film and the discussion afterwards shows the level of bitterness and anger but also the level of awareness that exists amongst the public.

This is a battle that is not yet over. With the general level of anger that exists within society, once people realise just what these 'reforms' really mean there will be an explosion of anger once more. The next stop for the campaign against all the government's cuts and privatisation is the protest at the Tory Party Conference in October.

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