Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/497/2674
NHS: no more cuts, no more privatisation
GORDON BROWN is carrying on Tony Blair's policies of cutting and privatising the health service. As the report below illustrates, all over the country campaigners are having to fight blatant attacks on NHS services, as well as cuts through the back door as this or that service is cut or readied for privatisation.
Health workers in England are facing pay cuts. An independent pay review body awarded 2.5% but the government want to stage it, making it worth only 1.9%. But the 2.5% is being paid in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
UNISON's health service executive is discussing whether to call an industrial action ballot over pay. Even the Royal College of Nursing is consulting its members about holding a formal ballot for industrial action. And the Royal College of Midwives is balloting for action short of a strike.
The trade unions need to unite the campaigns to defend the NHS and fight for a living wage for a health workers. The national demonstration called by UNISON on 3 November must be urgently built for.
We often think that official consultations are a sham, but until you actually take part in one, you don't realise how much of a sham they are. Socialist Party members took part in an NHS consultation in East London last week.
Having been campaigning to save Whipps Cross hospital for the last year, we went to find out the plans for Whipps and for London as a whole, and to make our protest - no to cuts and no to privatisation.
Our protest and stall outside were popular with the 40 or so participants - we sold 13 copies of the socialist.
Inside there was a slick presentation of Sir Ara Darzi's new framework for the NHS in London. Instead of district general hospitals, there will be a multi-layered system: GP centres, 'polyclinics' (which would do diagnostic tests and simple procedures like mole-removal), local hospitals, centres for planned surgery, acute hospitals for emergencies and specialist units for things like heart attacks, cancer etc.
No mention, of course, of what existing services would be cut, or who would provide these services. Participants heckled: "How can we struggle through London traffic to hospitals miles away?" but there was no answer.
This was followed by a presentation of the local Primary Care Trust's objectives - number one on the list was to balance the books by the end of the year! We were then treated to a speech by Professor Sir George Alberti, one of the originators of the ideas which led to Sir Darzi's framework, who grandly told us that hospitals in East London would close over his dead body.
But we quickly realised that while we were being 'consulted' on these historic changes, under the surface, unspoken but recognised by everyone in the room, are massive cuts and privatisations. We weren't actually going to be asked what we thought about any of it.
So we protested. Other participants protested too, and eventually the chair had to concede a time for general questions.
They only allowed three, but these got to the heart of the matter: If closures are over your dead body, why has the diabetic unit in Whipps Cross been shut down? Who will run the polyclinics - private health companies? Isn't it true that underneath all these specialist units and centres of excellence there are millions of pounds of cuts?
As soon as we and others made points about cuts and privatisation, everyone agreed with us. People don't want specialist hospitals at the expense of existing provision, and they don't want polyclinics run by private companies sucking profits out of the NHS.
At the end of the consultation the talk in the ante-chambers was all about cuts and privatisation and how we need to continue the fight. And the facilitator of our group bought a copy of the socialist!
There is something ironic about (soon to be Lord) Darzi's plans for polyclinics. These existed in the former Soviet Union.
But after the collapse of Stalinism the UK government's Department for International Development (DFID) went to Russia "with the aim of accelerating the process of strategic change in the delivery of healthcare."
The DFID attempted to change the primary health care system from one based on polyclinics to one based on GP family-practices!
In The Socialist 26 July 2007:
Postal workers' strike
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
Tales from the council chambers
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
Socialist Party reviews
Workplace news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis