'Save our NHS' demonstrators "Underfunded, undemocratic, unfair, unsafe"; demonstrators at Elephant and Castle station. Photo: Ellen Graubart

Despite the adverse weather conditions, local activists are giving their all to defend our NHS, reports Ellen Graubart

On the morning of Thursday 31st January, in the freezing cold, the National Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) and Lambeth KONP led a rally to demonstrate against the government’s long term plan for the NHS which will mean further cuts to our health service, more privatisation and the selling off of NHS land. The rally was held in front of Skipton House (next to Elephant and Castle tube station), while inside the building an NHS England board meeting was taking place to discuss the long term plan.

Tony O’Sullivan, Co-Chair of KONP led the rally with a magnificent on-going and informative flow of speeches explaining the facts, figures and shenanigans of successive governments’ attempts to destroy our health service as a public body. This took place against a back-drop of banners and a marquee, set up by Tom Griffiths (Campaigns Officer, KONP). There was a good response from the public as they took leaflets on their way to work. Passing traffic including buses gave their honks, and some drivers even took leaflets supporting the campaign. There were many very good speeches from campaigners from Lambeth, Lewisham, Bexley Heath, Ealing and Enfield, with their banners and hand-made placards.

The main substance of the plan of what has been published or leaked are simply a re-run of previous plans:

the only novel proposals are for more central control and less accountability, for trusts to run more like and with private businesses seeking profits, and to raise money by undermining the principles and values of the NHS through charging overseas visitors – a government policy widely condemned by NHS professional staff and campaigners as discriminatory and a step backwards from prevention and public health. There is no reason to believe this plan, with even less local accountability and no serious plans for public consultation, will prove any more acceptable to the public or successful in implementation than the secretive STPs in 2016 or other previous failed efforts. Campaigners have yet to see anything to recommend the new plans, or any indication NHS England is willing to come to grips with the crisis fuelled by chronic austerity limits on funding – or demand an end to chaos and fragmentation of the Health & Social Care Act.1 

  • The Tory government and NHS England claim the plan which consists of 60 completely uncosted promises will improve long term care.
  • They are making undemocratic and dangerous new legal changes, taking away local communities rights to hold their local NHS to account.
  • In order to cut spending, local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are being forced to merge, doing away with the public’s right to consultation.
  • Patient access to a doctor is being drastically reduced as GP practices are being cut from 7,500 to just so-called ‘super practices’.
  • NHS bodies in each of 44 areas must create an Integrated Care System (ICS) by 2020, and legal changes will be made to allow private tenders for ICS contracts.
  • Each ICS will form a new Integrated Care Provider (ICP) organization, as NHS or joint NHS/private partnership, which will most likely be competing for the contract with private companies.
  • The performance of providers in these contracts is not accountable to public scrutiny, and many private healthcare companies already specialize in limiting eligibility to healthcare.
  • If large commercial companies are awarded long term multi-billion £ contracts, our NHS will become fully financialised, and healthcare will be rationed.

The Long Term Plan is grossly unfair and unsafe. It is a plan to maximize private revenue and reduce public costs to healthcare, and will result in cutting access to a wide range of health treatments in drastically fewer settings.

Migrants and other people judged to be ineligible for free NHS treatment will be charged.

NHS trusts will be told to increase income through private health and insurance.

Fire sales of NHS properties and land will be forced through to fund deficits.

We have already seen the damage that Carillion and PFI have done; a financialised NHS will be disastrous.

We must unite against the government’s plan, commercial contracts have no place in a health service that benefits the people; we don’t want Integrated Care Providers, we want a publicly funded, publicly provided and publicly accountable National Health Service. We want the end of privatization and financialisation of the NHS.

The passing of the NHS bill will do just that. The Labour party supports the NHS Bill, and in its manifesto has promised healthcare for all, not just for the few.

The path ahead is clear: in the midst of rule by a weak but shambolic Tory government, which is tearing the fabric of society apart with its nonsensical austerity measures, the campaign to save our NHS must include demanding a general election now!


Ellen Graubart

Ellen Graubart was born in India of American parents and came to London from Virginia as a teenager to study art. She lives and works as an artist in Hackney. She is a member of Counterfire, Stop the War and Hackney Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

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