The Socialist 22 October 2014 |
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Private companies hold NHS to ransom
Capitalist firms eager for massive profits are targeting vital services such as health, regardless of the consequences.
Pharmaceutical firms make fortunes at the cost of NHS patients and workers. Suppliers of essential supplies, hospital buildings and information technology charge the health service a fortune for their wares.
Socialists demand the end of PFI schemes, the nationalisation of the major drugs firms, medical supplies companies and huge IT companies, and that they should be run under democratic working class control and management.
In April, the government paid £5.5 million of taxpayers' money to multinational tech giant Microsoft, securing the public sector one year of "custom support" for Microsoft's Windows XP operating system, plus other software. These are widely used across the NHS.
An operating system runs a computer's basic functions, on top of which more complex software, such as word processors or web browsers, can run. The NHS in England alone currently has over a million desktop PCs and laptops using Microsoft's dated Windows XP operating system.
Support for it ended last April. Lacking such support could put users at risk, as major security problems would be left unresolved. NHS computers could have potentially been attacked by malicious individuals, and data lost or stolen.
So the Department of Health negotiated with Microsoft to buy a year of extra support but after that, new software will have to be bought at additional cost.
Why didn't the government take action sooner? The cut-off date for support was known well in advance. One problem facing the NHS is that it treats individual GPs, health trusts, and other health organisations independently, and expects them to maintain their own IT systems.
Many hundreds of applications are used within the NHS, such as the 'Choose and Book' appointment system, that were coded using proprietary Microsoft technology which is no longer supported.
The government and public sector is at the mercy of multinationals like Microsoft. Alternatives exist, free and open source software (FOSS). Such software is created and maintained by individuals and organisations globally and can be used, modified, and distributed for free.
The NHS could have moved to FOSS years ago as part of a structured and organised approach across the public sector, and avoided the current situation. Attempts were made to pass legislation to encourage its use in the UK, but what little legislation was passed was significantly watered down to let big business keep dominating the market.
Socialists should encourage the use of free and open software, to meet the needs of society, and not to fill the coffers of global tech giants.
Mental health - the system needs changing
Under the present iniquitous system, people diagnosed with long-term dementia (who can be in their 50s or earlier) are asked to fund their own long term care. Long term care for non-mental health conditions is provided free under NHS rules. Dementia patients are unfairly means-tested, so hundreds of thousands are forced to sell what they have to fund their care, which can last until their death.
Mental health breakdown in general has dramatically increased, mostly because the capitalist system targets the poor, youth and the helpless. It punishes people unable to cope on zero-hour contracts or to find work with sanctions or total withdrawal of benefits.
One woman, punished and broken by the bedroom tax, went on to hang herself. Another woman was talked down by ambulance workers and mental health staff from throwing herself off a bridge. These show the intolerable stress causing mental health problems brought about by capitalist injustice.
Anyone sectioned under the mental health act can be sent to the other end of the country, as hospitals are bursting at the seams. Relatives can't afford to visit so the patient is left totally alone just when they most need family support.
Undoubtedly mental ill health can affect anyone, but it affects most those with no voice to resist the cruel system. People with mental health issues are targeted as failures but the system breaks them with stresses, producing feelings of hopelessness. It happened to me once.
The underfunded, unfair mental health system needs changing. Under socialism, the whole NHS would be nationalised and equally funded. Social justice would mean that unfair pressure would ease and poor, sick, helpless and elderly people would cease to be castigated and demonised.