What we say

No to health privatisation and ‘the market’

NHS demonstration, photo Paul Mattsson

NHS demonstration, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Britain’s NHS has become a pawn in the offensive by US Republicans and the big insurance and healthcare companies against Barack Obama’s proposals to reform the US healthcare system. As the right-wing hysteria has mounted, ‘Obamacare’ has been described as both ‘socialist’ and ‘Nazi’. Sarah Palin has even claimed that there will be “death panels” where government bureaucrats will make decisions about whether or not to let Grandma live.

To British Tory leader David Cameron’s embarrassment, Tory MEP Daniel Hannan has got in on the act, urging Americans to oppose Obama’s reforms and describing the NHS “as a sixty year old mistake”. This is the real position of the Tory party. A whole number of Tory MPs, including members of the shadow cabinet, have put their names to Hannan’s two books arguing for the destruction of the NHS, one of which was only published in 2008. Tory shadow health minister, Lord McColl, is a paid adviser to Britain’s biggest private GP service, something which Cameron has described as a “perfectly satisfactory state of affairs”.

However, Cameron cannot openly oppose the NHS, but has had to pledge his party’s support for it. This is a reflection of the fact that, despite being undermined by years of cuts and privatisation by both New Labour and the Tories, there is still enormous support for the NHS among Britain’s population.

The NHS, introduced by Labour in 1948, was the reform, alongside mass building of council houses, which most improved the lives of working and middle class people. Before the NHS, people died because they could not afford to go to the doctors. Fear of being ill dominated people’s lives.

Consequences of no NHS

That is what exists in the US today. 51% of the US population have at some point not sought medical attention because of fears of the cost. Health insurance for the average US family is around £7,200 a year, but many find that their insurance doesn’t cover them if they suffer serious health problems. As a result even relatively wealthy families can be forced into poverty by the struggle to pay for treatment. 47 million people, 16% of the US population, have no health insurance at all. When charities provide travelling free ‘hospitals’ – in reality open air field hospitals – many hundreds of people queue for days on end in order to get the most basic healthcare.

‘Obamacare’ falls far short of an NHS for the US. It is a very limited reform, which is likely to be watered down further in the face of opposition from the big insurance and health care companies. A more far-reaching proposal would be able to mobilise the US working and middle classes in enthusiastic support. However, Obama, representing a capitalist party, is not prepared to enter into a major conflict with corporate interests. When the NHS was founded the British Labour government faced all the ludicrous accusations being thrown at Obama today. But under the pressure of huge popular support for the NHS the government successfully pressed ahead.

Even then too many concessions were made to the big corporations. Not least that, while health care was public, the pharmaceutical companies remained in private hands. Today 10% of the budget of the health service goes on buying medicines from the profit-driven drugs companies.

However, many workers who fought for the foundation of the health service are horrified to see what this government has done to it. Anxious to differentiate New Labour from the Tories, Brown and Co. are claiming to be champions of the NHS. However, New Labour, now a big-business party not fundamentally different to the US Democrats, has allowed the private profiteers – including US giants like United Healthcare – to run rampant in the health service on a far larger scale than the last Tory government would have dared to do (see article below). The NHS has been systematically undermined by a policy of ‘a thousand cuts and sell-offs’.

Whoever wins the next general election, the health service, alongside the rest of the public sector, is going to face an acceleration of attacks. The current capitalist crisis has led to a spiralling of the public debt. While the City is bailed out, the public sector is being expected to pay the price. A mass campaign will be needed to defend and rebuild the NHS.

We demand:

  • Bring all health services into public ownership and rebuild the NHS as a publicly funded service free at the point of need.
  • Remove the trusts, abolish the internal market, cancel the debts. Representatives of NHS workers, trade unions and health service users should make decisions about how the NHS is run and what its priorities are.
  • Abandon the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). No more profiteering by construction companies and banks. All new hospitals to be built with public funding using direct labour and not for private profit.
  • Nationalise the pharmaceutical industry and medical supply industry under working-class control and management to end the massive amount these parasites drain from the NHS. Integrate these services into a democratically controlled NHS.
  • Cleaning, catering and other services should not be run for profit.
  • A minimum wage of at least £8 an hour and a 35-hour week for all health workers.
  • A socialist programme to eliminate poverty and inequality – the biggest killers and causes of ill-health.