Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/233/9266
Brown's Budget Won't End NHS Underfunding
GORDON BROWN'S budget promise of £1 billion more for the NHS next year seems at first glance to be a positive move in improving a desperately under-funded health service.
However, it would take over £20 billion to reach the European Union (EU) average health spending level (9.7% of gross domestic product).
Britain's NHS has been grossly neglected for decades. The Wanless report shows that compared with the EU between 1972 and 1998, this country has under-funded the service to the tune of £267 billion.
That's why staff in hospitals and practices are sceptical about the extra money. Ask any nurse, porter or receptionist what they think and they shrug their shoulders saying 'I won't hold my breath until I see some improvement with me own eyes'.
So far all New Labour's promises have resulted in nothing. No doubt this winter will see another beds crisis, people are still dying whilst they wait for heart bypass operations and there's still a postcode lottery on drugs and access to treatment depending on where you live.
This is the reality of the NHS for patients and those who work in it. What's more, since the announcement of the £1 billion, Tony Blair has begun backtracking on his commitment to meet European average health spending by 2005, saying it is a "broad aim" not a promise!
OF COURSE the rest of New Labour's health agenda - its plans to push ahead with privatising services provided to the NHS - gets less attention. The private finance initiative (PFI) does not provide new money for public services as the government claims.
In fact services provided by PFI are more expensive so beds and jobs are cut in order to afford them. This 'modernisation' is already leading to poorer standards of care and greater inequality in the NHS. The cost of funding and subsidising these projects will quickly soak up any extra money from this budget and more.
Even the meagre amount of extra money Gordon Brown is offering has got to come from somewhere. As usual ordinary people will pay the price for decades of under-funding. The most likely sources are thought to be increased VAT or national insurance contributions.
Yet Brown managed to cut capital gains tax - a move that benefits the rich. People ask how we can afford millions to go to war in Afghanistan whilst patients still wait for hours on trolleys in corridors to be seen in A&E departments.
The goodwill of NHS staff is the only thing keeping the service going and many are getting burnt out and leaving the profession.
The government's attempts to recruit nurses have worked but they have failed to provide enough extra training places for those applying. Some are waiting 18 months to get on a course.
Once trained the problem is persuading them to stay. Better pay and conditions have to be a priority. However the government prefer to pay academics to do years of research to work out why people are leaving. Why not just ask them?
The other major flaw in Brown's spending plans is that a protracted recession would send all these promises out of the window and workers will be made to pay even more to maintain what little they have.
We need better funding for the NHS. But, on its own that isn't enough. There needs to be a complete rethink of the way things are run to meet patients' needs rather than make profits for private companies.
Bringing pharmaceutical companies into public ownership, run under democratic workers' control, would release billions of the profits these businesses make out of people's ill health.
The whole NHS would be run far better by groups of elected, accountable representatives of patients and workers, rather than bureaucrats who serve the interests of profit above patients.
New Labour have shown they are incapable of providing even minimal funding or effective planning for our NHS. The only alternative is socialism, which would provide the economic basis to give people a decent health service without discrimination.
In The Socialist 7 December 2001: