We can save our NHS

Sell-off setback!

We can save our NHS

  • Gloucestershire campaign wins High Court ruling
  • National trade union fightback now needed
Chris Moore, Gloucestershire Socialist Party and Stroud Against the Cuts coordinator

“What a result, fantastic news,” said one email from a local NHS worker after Gloucestershire anti-cuts campaigners won a High Court victory against NHS privatisation.

Plans to transfer over 3,000 NHS staff, nine community hospitals, ten health clinics, district nursing, health visitors and many other services to a Social Enterprise Trust (SET) or Community Interest Company (CIC) have been scuppered. This is the first time such a legal victory against NHS privatisation has been achieved.

County-wide campaign

A huge campaign across the county, including a demonstration of over 500 in Stroud, one public meeting of 350 and two others of over 100, petitions, protests and continual leafleting of workplaces, town and city centres and sporting events, laid the basis for the legal challenge.

A 76-year old former railway worker, Michael Lloyd, supported by Stroud Against the Cuts, launched a Judicial Review against NHS Gloucestershire primary care trust’s decision to outsource its £80 million a year contract to a private body.

Throughout the whole process NHS management have tried to claim that keeping services within the NHS was not an option. Staff were given no opportunity to oppose the transfer. There was no public consultation.

Services were due to be transferred in October 2011, but now they have been forced to start a new consultation process, including the option for services to remain in the NHS. Staff and the public will get the opportunity to have their say.

Staff consultation

Health trade unions must demand genuine staff consultation, with the outcome binding on management. Elsewhere staff, when asked, have overwhelmingly rejected such proposals.

A mass campaign to pressure management is now needed. The trade unions must take a lead on this, including threatening strike action if necessary.

This should be part of a national strategy to fight all NHS privatisation and cuts. As a matter of urgency, unions should call and campaign for a national demonstration.

Last year in Shropshire, South Bedfordshire, Sandwell and elsewhere health trade unions successfully campaigned against transfer to social enterprise. But recently 20 primary care trusts handed staff and services over to Social Enterprise Trusts (SETs) or Community Interest Companies (CICs).

CICs are private limited companies, run as a business to make a profit. After a few years private sector sharks can compete for contracts, gobbling up the CIC minnows. Last September, Central Surrey Health, a flagship social enterprise, lost out in bids for a £500 million health services contract to Assura Medical a private healthcare company 75% owned by Virgin. In Hull, private companies stepped in months after the social enterprise contract was signed.

Yet Gloucestershire health managers told staff they were ‘committed to NHS values’. Staff were also told NHS terms and conditions would be preserved. But protection under Tupe (transfer of pay and conditions) rules is much weaker than staying in the NHS.

One local nurse said it would amount to a £4,000 pay cut. Unison obtained a Department of Health letter confirming transferred staff will be given new contracts that are hard to protect. Cornwall council broke promises to transferred NHS staff on pay and pensions.

The SETs scheme was initiated by the previous Labour government. In 2006 then Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said it gave “the ability to create wealth and employment and could play a greater role in future in the delivery of public services”.

The Con-Dem government wants to dismantle the NHS, through SET/CIC, £20 to £30 billion cuts and the Health and Social Care Bill that would remove all barriers to privatisation. Yet it was Labour that introduced one of the bill’s core policies, Foundation Trusts. Labour simply wants to ‘tone down’ the bill.

Our NHS is not safe in the hands of any of the main political parties. The public and health workers are prepared to fight to defend our NHS, but a national lead from health trade unions is desperately needed.