Bronwen Handyside, of Keep our NHS Public and Unite, looks at what's happening to our NHS and how we protect one of Britain's most cherished treasures from big business
"The NHS has provided what no other country in the world has achieved at the same cost — universal healthcare in the form of equal access to comprehensive care, irrespective of personal income.”
So wrote Allyson Pollock and David Price in A Duty to Care.
How have we arrived at the point where the NHS, the most beloved — and successful — institution in Britain, is on the way to becoming a US-style privatised and insurance-based service in the next few years?
It’s the result of more than two decades of lobbying and active interventions by private healthcare companies.
It is a process in which the vast majority of the mass media has colluded.
It arises out of a degenerate political system led by an array of corrupt politicians — from all the major parties — who have voted in Parliament for 25 years for the marketisation and privatisation of healthcare services.
Their reward has come through profitable personal investments and lucrative jobs in the private healthcare companies once their political careers are over.
Did you know that 220 of the parliamentarians of all parties who voted on Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act had interests in private healthcare?
The very parliamentary system itself is corrupt, since after an MP has declared his or her interests there is nothing to stop them voting for their own personal profit.
Twenty-five years ago, the private health firms knew it would be impossible for any government to simply privatise the National Health Service, in the way other services have been privatised.
They launched a long-term campaign to manoeuvre the health service into a state in which it could be privatised — constantly pumping out propaganda through their friends in the media that the perfectly viable and functional NHS was in need of “reform.”
The campaign started with the purchaser-provider split under arch-privatiser Margaret Thatcher in 1990. This artificial division between those supplying services and those commissioning them within the NHS first introduced the market into the health service.
The Labour government from 1997 followed through with a raft of back-door privatisations — the likes of independent sector treatment centres, financially crippling private finance initiative deals, hospital foundation trusts on the model of private businesses and the “any willing provider” policy which the coalition government incorporated into the Health and Social Care Act (following the outcry over the imposition of the Act the phrase was re-spun to “any qualified provider.”)
The Health and Social Care Act, which pretty much completed the 25-year dismantling of the NHS, was provided to politicians by US private consultancy firm McKinsey and subjects a defenceless NHS to the mercy of the privatisation vultures.
The Act puts national and regional specialist commissioning into the hands of corporate consultancies like KPMG and McKinsey itself.
It puts local commissioning in the hands of GPs, which increasingly means corporate consultancies which “advise” on legal and technical procurement issues and manage the tenders.
One in three GPs sitting on Clinical Commissioning Groups has financial interests in private healthcare companies.
McKinsey partners and other McKinsey staff regularly take senior jobs inside the British government. A former senior partner, David Bennett, became chief of policy and strategy for Tony Blair from 2005 to 2007 and is now chairman and chief executive of Monitor, which regulates the new healthcare market and plays a crucial role in offering NHS business to private companies.
McKinsey uses its inside knowledge of the Health and Social Care Act to advise private companies on how to break into the healthcare market.
Meanwhile, the mass media and politicians take every opportunity to attack the NHS.
Not only do they ignore the catastrophic faults and failures of private companies, they award them even more government contracts.
The aim is to break the British public from its allegiance to the NHS and convince people that private is better.
Behind the plotting and rapacity of these private companies lies the insatiable drive to recapture for their shareholders the massive $5 trillion-plus global healthcare budget, which after the second world war and the upsurge of a workers’ movement which was on the offensive was “lost” to the public sector in countries such as Britain.
From April to December 2013 £5 billion of NHS contracts were put out to tender. Fully 70 per cent went to private-sector organisations, diverting NHS money into vast private profits.
Now the politicians are pushing through EU and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreements which will enforce open market competition in all NHS services and allow corporations to mount legal challenges to national governments if public services are not tendered.
At the same time a Mori poll shows it is the NHS that makes the public “most proud to be British.” Two-thirds are in favour of increased spending on the health service.
People are prepared to fight and are fighting for our NHS. All of us must focus the willing and the campaigning initiatives to provide maximum unity and strength.
There are many ways to resist.
Bronwen Handyside is vice-chair of Unite London and Eastern region and a member of Keep Our NHS Public.
- When you get to the march, ask a steward where the NHS bloc is assembling or look for the long blue banner saying Fight For Our NHS and the big Keep Our NHS Public balloon.
- Join and support the 999 Call for the NHS march which starts from Jarrow on August 16 and will arrive in London on September 6. It’s organised by mothers angry about the destruction of the NHS. Visit www.peoples-assembly.org.uk/999_march_save_nhs for more details.
- If you’re not in a trade union, why not join Unite the union as a community member and participate with our 1.3 million members in a campaign for the NHS — see www.unitetheunion.org/growing-our-union/communitymembership.
- Join umbrella NHS campaigning group Keep Our NHS Public and start campaigning — visit www.keepournhspublic.org. No Keep Our NHS Public group in your area? Set one up! Keep Our NHS Public can supply all the information you need to do this.
- Hold hustings in your local area in the run-up to the general election — make sure would-be MPs pledge to overturn the Health and Social Care Act and will oppose local privatisation and cuts.
- Ask your local MP to campaign for the repeal of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and to reject the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
- Ask your MEP to campaign against TTIP and explain why.
- Write to the media. Demand they provide more — unbiased — reports on what is happening in the NHS, especially on privatisation.
- Report cuts in local NHS services to your MP and to the NHS Support Federation at www.nhscampaign.org or at 113 Queens Rd, Brighton BN1 3XG.
- Raise specific concerns at public NHS meetings — get details from your GP practice.
- Join the Patient Participation Group (PPG) at your GP practice and ask it to set up meetings to explain how local patient services are being affected by cuts and privatisation. If there is no PPG, ask the practice to set one up. They’re all supposed to have one.
- Ask for GP to mark your notes with No Private Providers.
- Contact your local branch of Healthwatch (www.healthwatch.co.uk) and your local NHS foundation trust to find out what is happening to services and how to get elected to the committee or board.
National demonstration and free festival
Saturday 21 June
Assemble 1pm, BBC HQ, Portland Place (Tube: Oxford Circus)
March to Parliament