Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/694/13145
NHS under attack
Stop the privatisation vultures
A Huntingdon health activist and socialist
Privatisation, cartoon by Alan Hardman
On 10 November, a £1 billion contract was announced for the private firm Circle Health to run Hinchingbrooke Hospital, Huntingdon, for ten years 'on behalf of the NHS'. It's the first private company to take over the running of a NHS hospital.
However, Circle Health has admitted in its share prospectus that its business strategy is under strain as it attempts to acquire more NHS hospitals and that this "could affect its ability to provide a consistent level of service to its patients".
The media has repeated time and again that Hinchingbrooke is a 'failed' hospital with £40 million of debts. They forgot to mention that half of this debt had been created in error, and not rectified, by the previous Labour-run Department of Health failing to pay agreed tariffs for patient services. The remainder relates to the overly-grandiose rebuilding of the hospital front, which now resembles a small airport!
Not one report mentioned that Hinchingbrooke has no operating deficit at all. However, several key departments had been partially or fully closed. The mental health Acer Ward has closed, bowel cancer surgery cut, and a specialist maternity unit removed. There is talk of moving much of stroke care to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.
Circle now claims that the hospital will be run with no job losses and no reduction in service, while reducing the £40 million deficit and still making a profit for shareholders. It doesn't add up. Exactly how Circle intends to achieve this miracle, other than by 'cutting NHS bureaucracy' ie cutting jobs and standards, is not explained.
Moreover, Circle had debts of £82 million at the start of the year, though £43.5 million is underwritten by the Department of Health.
Hinchingbrooke could be so downgraded that it could lose its A&E, remaining as little more than a rehabilitation centre or convalescence hospital for NHS patients with no one to care for them 'in the community', like a modern day workhouse hospital.
Trade unions have expressed their anger at the takeover by Circle. Unison has around 650 members who are worried about their jobs, and the Royal College of Nursing fears major job losses will be inevitable to pay for the privatisation.
The takeover of Hinchingbrooke Hospital by Circle is the thin end of a very thick privatisation wedge that the Con-Dem government is pursuing in the NHS. A policy made easier because the previous Blair and Brown Labour governments accelerated privatisation measures.
Circle's backers include former Goldman Sachs banker Paul Ruddock who has generously donated to the Tory party.
The trade unions together with the local communities must launch a national campaign to save the NHS from destruction.
They must demand an end to privatisation measures and the reintegration of such services back into a publicly owned, fully funded, and democratically run national health service.
In The Socialist 16 November 2011:
Fighting the cuts
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
The Socialist - Readers' comments