Big business to take over NHS funds

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THE Labour government is speeding up the break-up, privatisation and destruction of the National Health Service, despite the vote at the Labour Party Conference last month for a motion calling for a halt to further privatisation in the NHS.

Since its return to government following the general election in May, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government, with Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt in charge, has announced changes to the NHS, all geared to boosting private companies’ profits and cutting NHS services.

This week alone, three major changes which hit at the publicly funded, state-owned NHS have surfaced.

• Moorfields NHS Trust, the world famous eye hospital which is a Foundation Trust and run like a private business, has been able to borrow £5m and set up 10 ‘boutiques’ in other hospitals to provide eye treatments.

• A consortium of Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) in Surrey has given a contract to provide non-emergency ambulance services, including transporting very sick patients requiring expert attention and oxygen, to the private company GSL.

• Thames Valley Strategic Health Authority is putting out to tender the management of PCTs throughout Oxfordshire.

The latter move is the most significant step towards a private takeover of the whole of the NHS.

PCTs organise the provision of family doctors (General Practitioners), district nurses, midwives and health visitors, and commission care from NHS hospitals.

Up and down the country PCTs get 75 per cent of the NHS budget, so they have billions to spend. So when privateers take over PCTs they will have multi-million pound budgets, providing rich pickings to make huge profits.

PCTs contract work out to GPs, nurses who will be called ‘Community Matrons’, other nursing staff and low-paid, unskilled Health Care Assistants (HCAs).

Already these PCTs are being told they should try to keep people in their homes and stop them going to a doctor or a hospital, in order to save money.

PCTs are also driving to replace GPs with a variety of less trained ‘healthcare practitioners’. They decide who will deal with patients and they set the rates of pay.

They also have massive budgets to commission hospital care for patients in their areas.

So it comes as no surprise that huge multinational companies, like United Health, America’s largest health company, Netcare of South Africa and Norwich Union insurance have all said they are interested in taking over Oxfordshire’s PCTs consortium.

Private companies running consortia of PCTs, like that on offer in Oxfordshire, create conditions where a huge private company will be in a position to use NHS funds to buy services from other private companies.

These companies will employ and supply GPs and nursing staff, and pay out funds to the private Independent Sector Treatment Centres (ISTCs).

The successful motion, moved by the 1.3m-strong UNISON public service workers’ union at the Labour Party Conference and backed by all the unions in the Trades Union Congress, was clear.

It called on the government to ‘suspend the introduction of competition of providers in primary care services, and the stipulation that the role of PCTs as service providers be minimised, pending the outcome of such a review’ and ‘suspend any further expansion of the role of the private sector into the NHS’.

There is clearly no point in pleading with this government to change course. It is enthusiastically privatising and destroying the NHS, and is contemptuous of resolutions passed by the TUC and Labour Party conferences.

Staff within the NHS and the whole working class, through its trade unions must immediately demand union leaders organise strike action to stop the privatisation of the NHS. There is not a moment to lose!

There must be a campaign in all the trade unions, particularly in the public sector, for the organisation of a general strike to bring down the Labour government. So long as Blair, Brown, Hewitt and company are running things, the NHS will not be safe.

The trade union movement must fight for a workers’ government, which will halt privatisation, kick the privateers out of the NHS and restore it as a fully-funded, publicly-owned and publicly delivered free, universal, healthcare system.