The national NHS demonstration that took place over the last few days was a collective scream at the Government not to tamper any further with the UK healthcare system. This winter has seen the worst crisis in living memory stretch NHS resources to the absolute limit; NHS Trusts nationwide have been absolutely clear that although there is always a peak of admissions in winter months, years of lack of funding and chronic resource issues have combined to create the perfect storm of a full-blown NHS crisis. While the Government (as previous Conservative Governments did before it) like to paint the NHS as a black hole which will swallow up endless amounts of taxpayers money – the fact remains that the bleeding of NHS finances to the private sector, and the burden of PFI contracts established under previous Governments, have all put the punitive approach of the Tory administration into very sharp relief. Let’s be clear – the Tories want increasing private involvement in the NHS, while a huge majority of the UK population (whether they be Leavers or Remainers) want not only privatisation to stop, but for it to be significantly reversed.
People instinctively know that privatisation of healthcare is a bad idea – they only have to look at the system across the Atlantic and compare it to European healthcare systems to draw a very stark comparison. European voters generally want little to do with a significant profit motive in healthcare (what they get, however, is debatable) and, more importantly, they want their healthcare systems to care for everybody – not just a moneyed few. And contrary to the Government’s propaganda – in terms of value for money, the NHS is extremely efficient. But in terms of funding, it is well down the European league in terms of amounts spent per capita on health and on social care.
And let us not forget that the crisis in social care is as big as it is in the NHS, and stems mainly from the same forces at play – private healthcare companies and corporations bleeding money from the system – and the taxpayer. As with the NHS, the Government wants more private money introduced into the social care system – companies which certainly do not benefit patients – often charging exorbitant amounts for “care” while delivering a deplorable service – but they do benefit the profit margins of a large number of private providers; who while hurt over the collapse of TTIP, are no doubt salivating over the kind of trade deal the Tory Government may potentially make with Trump’s US administration. US healthcare giants have not taken their eye off the prize of the UK’s still largely state-provided NHS – and will lobby for a deal that will give them maximum access to UK patients on a private basis.
It’s been going on a while – there have been many NHS demonstrations over the years. This picture was taken around 2005.
Trades unions have been warning for many years about the slow privatisation of the NHS and innumerable demonstrations have been held to try to stave off the surreptitious takeover of Britain’s last great symbol of socialism and cooperative endeavour. However, the fact remains that neither healthcare nor social care are safe in the hands of the Tories. The Labour Party, meanwhile, shackled by its not-so-distant past of supporting private initiatives such as PFI in health, must now be absolutely clear that it has moved to a position of absolute commitment to a publicly-funded and distributed NHS – free of the grasping hands of the private providers. Whatever trade unionists and socialists say about Brexit – it is an opportunity – either for a future Labour Government to ensure private involvement in the NHS is once-and-for-all brought to an end, thereby releasing much-needed funds that could be used exactly where they are needed. Or, it is an opportunity for a Tory Government – through a lucrative trade deal with America that includes healthcare, to allow US health corporations to strip what is left of a state-run service, like vultures picking over a wounded animal. Only the determination of NHS campaigners will ensure the first scenario is the one that wins out – and Aneurin Bevan’s famous comment one that can be translated to reality. The recent demonstration proved that there are still enough of those “folks” to demand that their health future – and the health future of their children, is untouched by the dirty hand of profit. The Tories are on the back-foot over the NHS – now is the time to seize the initiative and demand that their “reforms” are either halted or reversed; the country simply cannot afford another winter health crisis before creeping privatisation is revealed to be a cruel and bare-faced political lie based merely on no more than profit – the greatest political lie of the last 40 years.