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From The Socialist newspaper, 2 February 2006

Public health not private profit

Super NHS, not supermarkets

HOW CAN the NHS generate more patient treatments and income when it has to close beds and lay off staff to pay the PFI charge, or face closure?

Claire Shannon

Well, according to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt it can become part of the vision of future foundation hospitals and become "like Debenhams", where one shop is home to a range of branded boutiques, or where you can visit your doctor at the local supermarket. This week, to deflect from a growing crisis in hospital funding, Patricia Hewitt announced several new NHS initiatives in a Government White Paper including:

- Commercial operators setting up surgeries.

- Doctors to open surgeries within supermarkets.

- Voluntary groups to run surgeries.

- Longer GP opening hours.

Blair has admitted that where you live largely affects your well-being, but claims that if commercial operators set up surgeries it will mean "greater fairness and social justice". Yet, rises in NHS spending are to stop in 2008, less than two years away. Patricia Hewitt does not believe the government will "need to put money in... but we need new providers.".

With these new White Paper initiatives, NHS resources are to go from hospitals to fund GP Health Centres over the next ten years, many likely to be run by private firms, despite the continued closure of smaller 'unproductive' hospitals and community hospitals. 45 million outpatient appointments are to be farmed out to local health centres, comparable to German 'polyclinics'.

However, expensive additional administration will then be switched to GPs who are unwilling, or unable, to manage their own budgets now.

A District Nurse working in Yorkshire told the socialist that these changes will be implemented by top management and no decisions will be taken on the ground by her colleagues, both doctors and nurses.

If Patricia Hewitt's aim behind her current proposed reforms is to clear hospitals of minor and unnecessary admissions, it is not a new vision, rather one that has been repeated many times over the past 30 years. Whilst people may welcome more access to local clinics, the difference now is the involvement of the private sector. Wherever the private sector has become involved in running public services it has been a disaster, from health to education to railways.

Now we are expected to believe that surgeries in shops run by the private sector, combined with cutbacks and closures in hospitals is going to lead to better healthcare.

This year 31 of the 46 NHS trusts in three counties in South East England are in deficit, including Sussex and Surrey (41m), Royal West Sussex (17m) and Swale Primary Care Trust (7.8m). The BBC has said the response to problems in the region's NHS will be to sack 300 staff.

Perhaps these people will be re-employed in their local supermarkets where they can stack the shelves of the increased amounts of products from the pharmaceutical companies whose presence is also to be encouraged to expand by these initiatives.

Campaigner attacks 'free market' in NHS

ON 21 January, over 2,000 people marched in Kendal against any attempt to reduce NHS services at Westmorland General Hospital.

As NHS worker, and organiser of the march and the local NHS SOS campaign, Socialist Party member ANDREW BILLSON-PAGE, wrote in a letter to the local Westmorland Gazette, it showed "how important our hospital is to its community and in particular, the esteem in which local mental health services are held."

In the week when health secretary Patricia Hewitt said that NHS Trusts were expected to make a profit, Andrew Billson-Page attacked the way these 'free market' ideas were ruining the health service.

"From the outset we determined our priorities would be to engage with the public, to inform the public and to empower the public to reclaim their NHS. The NHS is, after all, the property of the people - not of the government, managers or accountants.

"The Hospital Trust I previously worked for in Greenock is facing possible deficits of 100 million, while hospitals in other urban areas are also in heavy deficit. This is a problem on a national scale.

"The root causes of the problem are: the market economy within the NHS, increasing fragmentation, the financially absurd idea that public services can be run as private enterprises, the power of the pharmaceutical industry (which takes 47% of the national NHS budget) and steady privatisation combined with the target-driven culture of New Labour.

"They have undermined both the long-term future and the ethos of the NHS. At the heart of the matter is an issue of public funding not operating in the public interest. This is too important an issue to be left to politicians.

"The solutions lie in channelling community opposition constructively and challenging the economic philosophy that puts finances before patients. Unlike New Labour, the NHS SOS campaign will always put people first and over the next few months will be putting together a new, radical and viable alternative to the cuts threatened by our health bosses."

The Socialist Party has been calling for all the anti-health service cuts campaigns like NHS-SOS to be linked together to fight to defend the NHS.

NHS archive

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In The Socialist 2 February 2006:

Pensions: 'Back down or we strike!'

United mass action can defeat Blair's pensions plans

Firefighters prepare to strike against pensions' robbery

Building a new shop stewards' movement

Healthworkers back RMT and Socialist Party initiatives

2006: Year of opportunity

100 British victims of Blair's war

Political earthquake as Hamas wins election

Public health not private profit

Campaigning against privatisation of schools in Hackney

Lambeth students' successful boycott

Civil servants strike back at Blair's cuts agenda

Post Office: National action needed to defend jobs

Fighting council cuts in Devon

Defence workers battle privatisation


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