The Socialist 29 October 2014 |
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NHS: More cuts planned
Marching to save the NHS, photo Bob Severn (Click to enlarge)
The National Health Service (NHS) is being ripped apart as a result of an acute underfunding crisis. Inevitably, patient care is suffering as a result.
This cash shortfall is coupled to an accelerating privatisation programme in the form of rip-off Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts and the outsourcing of the bulk of the NHS budget under the Con-Dems' Health and Social Care Act 2012.
In September this year, it was reported that 86 out of 147 NHS trusts, including 33 self-governing Foundation Trusts, were in deficit. Of these, two-thirds are hospital trusts.
In 2012, South London Health-care NHS Trust, crippled by unserviceable PFI payments to for-profit private consortia, became the first trust to be placed into special administration before being broken up.
But instead of scrapping and reversing this privatisation agenda the head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, (former Labour government health advisor and president of US-based UnitedHealth Group private healthcare company) has set out a new five year plan of cuts and charges.
Stevens, while being careful to say that the majority of health services would continue to be met by NHS providers, also argued that the private sector had an important role to play in the NHS.
Indeed, figures from the Department of Health show that non-NHS providers secured £10 billion of contracts or 10% of the NHS budget in England - a figure that inevitably will grow under the government's Health and Social Care Act.
Stevens was more robust in defending the use of PFI contracts developed under the Blair/Brown Labour governments (when he was a healthcare advisor), despite the untenable burden these schemes have placed on NHS resources.
In order to plug an estimated £30 billion funding shortfall by 2020 NHS England wants an extra 2-3% 'efficiency savings' ie cuts, on top of the existing 'savings' being pushed through by NHS managers.
David Bennett, chief executive of Monitor, which regulates the NHS Foundation Trust sector, did not rule out the NHS having to charge for hospital stays or GP appointments if government spending did not increase.
NHS England also wants to merge hospitals, cut 'back-office' workers and to use more volunteers instead of qualified and paid staff. These changes are supported by Labour and the Lib Dems.
Yet it was staff shortages, driven by financial targets to achieve Foundation Trust status, which played a critical part in the neglect of patients in the Mid-Staffs Hospital scandal.
In the run-up to the general election the three main establishment parties in Westminster are keen to trumpet their defence of the NHS as a publicly funded and run healthcare provider.
Yet these parties are responsible for the systematic undermining of the NHS as part of their pro-big business agendas and their private healthcare connections.
The Socialist Party, working with its trade union allies in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, will continue to fight for the scrapping of PFI services and to demand that privatised services are reintegrated into a fully funded and democratically run public NHS.
This could be paid for through nationalising the tax-avoiding giant corporations, including the parasitic 'big pharma' drug companies, and imposing a wealth tax on the income and assets of the super-rich. Then, people's health could come first instead of private profit.