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21 February 2018

Tories raid 1bn from NHS facilities budget - unions must act

Josh Asker, Southampton Socialist Party

For the last four years the government has been delving into the NHS maintenance budget to fund everyday running of services. This year that figure comes in at 1 billion, wiping out in one stroke the 506 million capital investment announced by Phillip Hammond in his autumn budget.

And this month the Times found that Boots the chemist charged the NHS 1,579 for a pot of moisturiser available for just 1.73 elsewhere. Selling medicines to the NHS is a lucrative business, with billions made every year by the big pharmaceutical companies.

The NHS is breaking down and crumbling in front of our eyes. This is something workers in St Mary's Hospital in west London would attest to after part of their first floor and ceiling collapsed in September. Urgent investment is needed to maintain, repair and upgrade NHS infrastructure.

For a health service being run at its limits the consequences of faults and damage can be catastrophic. Technical failures were one of the factors leading to record numbers of A&E patients in England being diverted to other hospitals in the last week of December.

"They are running it down so they can sell it off!" is a common refrain from workers stopping at Socialist Party campaign stalls up and down the country. If there is any question over motivation for this, look no further than Unite the Union's 2014 report detailing 71 coalition government MPs with financial interests in private healthcare.

Private interests must be removed from every part of the NHS - including by nationalising the big pharmaceuticals. There needs to be a massive investment in the health service - to not only provide services today, but build the infrastructure of the future.

These demands are on the lips of most health workers and patients. A determined campaign, including strike action, led by the health unions, would win mass support from the public - and likely mean the end of the Tory government.

Jeremy Corbyn should call for this. The Socialist Party will continue to build and fight for it.

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