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From The Socialist newspaper, 1 December 2010

Readers' comment:

Our health - A market for big business

YOUR HEALTH care is being privatised. Your body's ailments may worry you but to someone else they will be soon be a commodity to be bartered for, bought and sold on the free market.

By an NHS healthworker

A short while back, my colleagues and I received emails about changes to our employment. One email offered voluntary redundancy; the next advised us that we had an 'opportunity' to become part of a 'Social Enterprise Trust' (SET) - a 'third sector' business.

With short notice, we were invited to hear what this entailed and to ask questions. The previous government said staff should 'buy into' this change of setup, should it take place. The coalition government altered this to a requirement only to show evidence of staff 'engagement'. We were sent a meeting invitation and some down-loadable leaflets - how very engaging!

Most staff in the PCT (primary care trust) could not attend meetings at short notice during working hours. The managers know this and rely on it. We certainly did not have time to peruse the eleven government documents we were given a link into.

Later, hospital trusts are to be converted to similar fates - they too will be moved outside of the public sector as part of big changes to our health service. The SET system was being introduced by Labour, but now it is being introduced with urgency, to work with proposals outlined in the government's white paper (further privatisation).

People fear that proposed changes are being implemented with scant regard for the 2006 NHS Act, which says: "These NHS organisations are required to make arrangements to involve and consult patients and the public in: planning of the provision of services; the development and consideration of proposals for changes in the way those services are provided, and decisions to be made by the NHS organisation affecting the operation of services."

The public were meant to be consulted. If I don't know what's going on, how on earth would people outside of the NHS?!

Deadly privatisation

Another big change is that GPs are to take responsibility for up to 80% of the NHS budget. Sounds good in theory. GPs know what is needed locally and see the patient as someone with lifelong needs, not just a hospital admission.

However, GPs themselves will not be spending this money. They know which areas need what, but not how to deliver. They are doctors - that's what they do - they doctor people. The job of spending will be passed on to private health groups - groups that look for a profit drawn from the NHS's 'ring-fenced' funds.

These commissioners will look for a provider for a particular service for a particular need. The work I do has benefits which are hugely cost-saving over the rest of the patient's life, but a private company will look toward a cheap, quick-fix treatment with only short-term results. After all, shareholders won't want to wait 30 years for their dividend. These commissioning groups are big private health companies. They have been in discussions as a 'cartel' for a while already.

So who will scrutinise the performance of all the big players in this and ensure the public are safe in this new health service, if not the government or public? Who will ensure we are safe in our hospital beds or that we get the correct treatment?

The public think they get a raw deal now from the NHS but most of the complaints are about sections of the NHS long since put out to private contract - catering, cleaning, agency nurses, call centres, NHS deliveries and many more departments.

Within the NHS, quantitative outcomes dominate most treatments. In some trusts nurses doing pre-operative assessments have their time to assess so reduced that they know unsuitable patients are being sent for anaesthetic and surgery. This will get worse with markets and competition being brought fully into the NHS. People will die as a result.

In a few years, I may not have a job if our service is underutilised. Then my patients will have to be seen by the quick-fix private sector and their long-term health will probably be affected negatively. In a few years, our health service will no longer be 'national' as in 'publicly-owned' - it will be a collection of competing businesses.

I could say that the banks created a crisis for which the public sector is being made to pay, that these are back-door cuts. That is what it seems at first glance. But it is actually an ideological change to our healthcare system; it is privatisation. This is not only unnecessary, but deadly.

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In The Socialist 1 December 2010:

Youth Fight for Education

Young people lead fight against cuts

We can win: student struggle must escalate

Socialist Party editorial

Unity - but not unity of the graveyard

How can an anti-cuts movement be built? Coalition of Resistance conference report

Anti-cuts campaign

Defend jobs and services

Riot police called to Lewisham town hall lobby

Irish working class in huge show of defiance

Fight against cuts continues to grow

Coventry council - stop job cuts

NHS walk-in centre saved, but campaign continues

News in brief


Nuneaton protest against racist EDL

The Socialist Interview

Len McCluskey speaks to The Socialist: Building workers' confidence

Socialist Party workplace news

PCS: Vote 'yes' for action against cuts

London Underground strike most solid so far

Wales TUC leadership tries to stifle action to stop the cuts

A united battle for pensions

Workplace news in brief

International socialist news and analysis

North Korean artillery attack raises tensions

Portugal: 'Biggest strike action ever'

Climate change

Climate change: Socialist planning needed to avert a global catastrophe

Readers' comments

Our health - A market for big business

Bankers: The new untouchables?


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