Private hands off our NHS!

ALISTAIR DARLING, Brown’s chancellor, has announced that health spending will increase by about 4% a year until 2011/12. This totally inadequate rise will cause little celebration in the NHS.

Even when health spending was growing officially by about 7% a year, the result was frequently cutbacks, closures and job losses. Now there will be even greater financial pressure on health services such as hospitals and GP services.

Labour’s whole strategy has been to try to turn the NHS into a commercial market where shareholders, managers, lawyers and administrators decide everything on a business basis. Many government-favoured projects have involved various forms of privatisation.

Hospitals and other buildings, for instance, have been constructed under the extremely expensive Private Finance Initiative (PFI). That will be an albatross around the neck of the NHS for decades if campaigners don’t stop it.

Below, LOIS AUSTIN shows how the American experience of market-based health care has important lessons for ‘save our NHS’ campaigners in Britain.

WE DO not need any other reason to come on the trade union demonstration for the NHS on 3 November than the vital need to fight to save our health service. But here is one. The New York Times has just published an article reviewing 91 audits of the private companies providing services for people on the Medicare programme of health care services for the USA’s poorest people.

The corruption revealed is startling and a firm rebuttal to those who think that handing the NHS over to these same companies implicated in corrupt practices in the US, is the way forward.

Two companies mentioned as engaged in such practices are United Health and Humana. Each is currently bidding to provide commissioning services for the Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) that control much of this country’s NHS budgets. The government is shortly to award the contracts.

The report found that tens of thousands of those on Medicare had been victims of “deceptive sales tactics and claims improperly denied by private insurers that run the system’s huge new drug benefit programme”.

It also found that there had been “improper termination of coverage for people with HIV and AIDS, huge back-logs of claims and complaints and a failure to answer telephone calls from insurers, doctors and drugstores”. And this government are welcoming these people to commission services within the NHS!

So that is one more reason to build for, and come on, the national demonstration to stop the sell-off of the health service. All indications are that those trade union leaders who are wedded to New Labour want a tame, quiet demonstration. We need the opposite.

All over the country, communities and health workers are angry at the cuts and privatisation of health services. Make sure this demonstration reflects that anger and is a springboard to a truly national campaign dedicated to saving the NHS.