Peterborough City Hospital built with PFI, photo Davecrosby uk (Creative Commons)

Peterborough City Hospital built with PFI, photo Davecrosby uk (Creative Commons)   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Hugh Caffrey, Manchester

“The biggest attack on the NHS you’ve never heard of” – that’s how the deeply secretive plans being drawn up by NHS bosses were described by one report. Thanks to funding cuts, rip-off PFI schemes, and privatisation, the NHS is groaning under a £2.5 billion deficit (possibly much more). The shortfall is predicted to rise to £22 billion by 2020.

The solution by NHS England national and local bosses is to slash services. This will mean devastating cuts under ‘sustainability and transformation plans.’

NHS chiefs were already planning for 40 to 70 A&E units to become ‘super centres’, undoubtedly at the expense of the rest of the 225 A&Es.

One head honcho made clear that these cuts are “a central part of the NHS five-year forward view and the pace is about to accelerate… The heavy lifting starts in 2015-16…”

Sustainability and transformation plans are the new means by which this “five year forward view” is to be delivered. Detailed plans for cuts are to be drawn up by mid-Autumn.

The plans have no legal basis, as the government has been forced to admit, but the resulting cuts will be presented as accomplished facts for ‘consultation’ with the full backing of the political and NHS establishment.

The process is being directed by NHS England chief Simon Stevens, formerly of US healthcare company United Health and before that a ‘special advisor’ to Tony Blair when New Labour was driving privatisation of the NHS including into the hands of United Health.

These plans will be a disaster for patients and staff. Meanwhile the staggering waste of money that is the ‘internal market’ and privatisation will continue, consuming up to 20% of the NHS’s £100 billion-plus budget through trusts, clinical commissioning groups and PFI.

So great is the waste of money that the companies trousering profits from PFI are nervous that their leeching may bleed dry the golden goose. Not to worry, reported the Financial Times: “Fears over rising National Health Service deficits have forced Moody’s to reassure investors that the government will pick up the tab for Private Finance Initiative debt if a hospital trust collapses or defaults.

“In a note to clients, the rating agency said returns from PFI schemes would be protected if the trusts were to become insolvent. ‘UK legislation ensures that the government would in most cases cover a trust’s liabilities, including its payments to project companies, if they were to become insolvent,’ its note to clients said.”

Mass resistance to closures, including from health workers and their trade unions, will be necessary. This will need to be unified nationally in demands for the funding cuts to be reversed, for all the privatisation-related measures to be scrapped, and the NHS to be returned to full public ownership.

More and more campaigns are demanding such policies. Socialists also argue for nationalising the private healthcare, pharmaceutical and life science companies, together with the banks and other sharks behind the PFI schemes. We call for democratic management of public services and nationalised industries by workers and service-users, and a joined-up socialist healthcare and social care system fit for the 21st century.