TODAY the Labour Government will publish its Health White Paper. Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt gave a preview of its aims over the weekend, that is to close National Health Service (NHS) hospitals and tell patients they will have to get by with ‘care in the community’ instead.
This is what lies behind Hewitt’s much-publicised plans for so-called ‘Health MOTs’.
Hewitt said: ‘What we have come up with is the idea, we call it the NHS life check, which you would do at key points in your life. To start with it is going to be a self-assessment test that you can fill in either on paper or on-line so that you check your own lifestyle factors and elements of your family history.’
Some patients might have their blood pressure measured, or have a blood test. There was even talk of employing ‘health trainers’, which are obviously cheaper than qualified doctors, or nurses.
Hewitt said the check-ups would be offered at certain points such as birth, age 11 and 18 and when patients reach their 50s.
Health screening by medical staff is useful, but what Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government is proposing is a smokescreen for a massive programme of NHS hospital closures, which is already underway.
On Friday, the day before Hewitt grabbed the headlines with her ‘Health MOT’, a BBC survey of Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and NHS Hospital Trusts revealed that they have debts this financial year of £1bn.
Commenting on this, Michael Summer from The Patients Association said: ‘Any action that the NHS takes to reduce deficits should not lower the quality of care provided to patients.’
But if you pay less, you get less! The PCTs reported that managers have closed beds, shut wards and even closed down entire hospitals as they try to balance their books.
Thousands of doctors, nurses and ancillary workers’ jobs have been axed. In some cases, vital Accident and Emergency Units have been closed, with ambulances diverted elsewhere because there are no beds for emergency patients.
Hewitt has admitted that, for financial reasons, some treatments are no longer available and those needing elective surgery may have to wait longer.
The Health Secretary’s response to this underfunding of hospitals is not to get wards re-opened, but to send in hit squads of accountants (‘turnaround support’) to dictate to NHS hospital managers what cuts they must make. She targeted 18 hospitals for this treatment last Wednesday.
In addition, the future hospital building programme faces being axed. It is said that £12bn of PFI schemes for rebuilding hospitals are ‘unaffordable’.
NHS hospitals are already being undermined by NHS patients being sent to Independent Sector Treatment Centres (ISTCs), owned by private healthcare multinationals. This privatisation drive is depriving local NHS hospitals of funds. NHS funds are being given to the privateers to make profits and expand.
The government is shifting funds from secondary care (NHS hospitals) to primary care (Community Care and GP Services).
Hewitt’s ‘Health MOT’ system is to be implemented in ‘deprived areas’ first. ‘Health trainers’ will be dispatched armed with questionnaires and instructions on how to take blood pressures, delivering the message that patients should not go to see a GP and certainly, on no account, must they go to a hospital.
This is a move to deprive working-class families of the right to high-quality, free universal healthcare provided by GPs and well-equipped NHS hospitals, staffed by qualified doctors and nurses.
In the interests of the whole working class, the trade unions in the NHS must lead a fight to defend the NHS before Blair, Hewitt, Brown and company complete its destruction through privatisation and hospital closures.
Every trade union in the Trades Union Congress has members in the NHS, so it is time their union leaders organise a general strike to halt hospital cuts and closures and bring down the government. If union leaders will not do this they must be removed.
The Blair government must be replaced with a workers’ government to carry out socialist policies, end privatisation and restore the NHS, as a publicly-owned, publicly-provided, free universal healthcare system.
The Workers Revolutionary Party is building a leadership in the trade union movement to organise this fight. So join the WRP today!