Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/537/6134
My pain - and privatisation
Doctors to the left of New Labour
I have a pain - literally - in my big toe and naturally had recourse to the doctor. On entering the doctor's surgery I found there was not another soul waiting to be seen. "My lucky day," I thought expecting to see my doctor very quickly. How wrong can you be?
Asking to see my doctor I was told it was impossible for at least a month! "He's on holiday and he is booked up after he comes back."
So what am I going to do about my big toe then? "You can ask for an emergency consultation with another doctor," they helpfully suggested. I promptly complied. Here comes the catch. "You will have to ring after two o'clock in the afternoon back if you want to be seen this evening."
Pointing out there was no one else in the surgery didn't get me very far. "All the doctors are seeing people by appointment. That is the procedure."
I then noticed a petition from the British Medical Association (BMA) on the receptionist's table. It called for patients to sign in protest at the government's proposals for GP surgeries. In view of the treatment I had just received I hesitated.
But on reading the special BMA leaflet, 'Support NHS general practice', it was clear that the doctors and their organisation have taken quite a radical position towards the government.
Indeed, some of the contents of this leaflet could have been lifted from leaflets produced by socialists and others on the left prior to 1997. The target of criticism, however, is different. Then it was the Tory government and now it is 'New Labour'.
Criticising the privatisation of the NHS, the BMA states that "we are very worried that new government plans to change the way in which GP services are provided will put at risk the comprehensive, high-quality patient care that your local surgery provides."
Under the headline 'Introduction of more commercial companies', it declares: "Most NHS GP practices are independently run by local GPs on behalf of their patients. However, the government is now encouraging commercial companies to run GP surgeries. These companies are accountable firstly to shareholders not patients."
"Commercial companies are likely to be offered short-term contracts. This could lead to a higher turnover of doctors who may not know you or your long-term health needs. This is bad for patients."
In relation to proposed 'polyclinics', it states: "The government plans to introduce up to 250 large new health centres - often called polyclinics - across England, instead of funding extra services in local surgeries." The BMA acknowledges the government's claim that "these health centres may contain up to 25 GPs", but then adds: "We are worried that patients may lose the personal relationship they usually have with their current family doctor."
As my very recent experience showed, my current contact with my doctor is not all that it could be. But at least I have 'personal' contact and recourse to protest and demand that I see my doctor, even if it is in a month's time! What chance would I have if Labour's 'gigantism' - 'bigger is better' - is implemented?
Then there is the extra distance that patients would have to go to see a doctor. Polyclinics are in effect calculated to save money. But that money would not be used to serve patients, but to feed the voracious appetites of the private medical 'industry', which already leeches off the NHS.
The BMA therefore demands: "Improved services to patients by further investment in existing GP surgeries and not waste money on unwanted polyclinics. Halt the plans to encourage commercial companies to run GP surgeries."
Radical stuff indeed, most activists in the trade unions and labour movement, and socialists, would conclude!
These sentiments of the BMA are shared by the vast majority of users of the NHS. Most doctors and their organisations, at the time when the NHS was formed in 1948, opposed the setting up of a state-funded National Health Service. At that time, Aneurin Bevan achieved their acquiescence by 'stuffing their mouths with gold'.
Subsequently, they have been persuaded of the great benefits of the NHS, particularly when set against the scandalous record of privately funded health care in the US and elsewhere.
Gordon Brown warns, together with right-wing trade union leaders, that working people must accept privatisation, restrain their wage demands, tighten their belts, accept 2% wage increases while the cost of living rises at three or four times this amount, for fear of 'the return of a Tory government'.
The answer to this should be: 'We already have a Tory government.' The petition of the BMA should be supported, as a first step, but we should demand a lot more: for a fully-funded, democratic and socialist health service in Britain.
Brown's New Labour government is to the right of the doctors' union, the BMA. That is another reason for the unions to break from this discredited capitalist party and prepare the ground for a new mass workers' party.
In The Socialist 11 June 2008:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party editorial
Socialist Party campaigns
Defend Tommy Sheridan
Campaign for a New Workers Party
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party review
Socialist Party workplace news