THE Tory drive to impose capitalist ‘business models’ on the NHS with the constant demand for cuts and financial stability at the cost of patient lives has taken on a new bizarre form.
Hospitals, from being places of healing, are to be transformed into energy producers whose function will be to keep the lights on as the privatised power system fails to meet demand.
The plan, already being carried out in selected hospitals around the country, involves National Grid, which has the responsibility for balancing the supply and demand for electricity, ‘recruiting’ hospitals to a scheme that involves them turning down air conditioning and turning their backup generators into auxiliaries of the power companies.
By dangling money in front of hospitals that have seen their budgets cut to the bone by the government and are desperate for cash, National Grid are proposing turning hospitals into a power resource.
Turning hospital air conditioning systems off or down at peak times for electricity use would be a ‘cost effective way’ of balancing supply and demand for electricity according to Cordi O’Hara, the UK system operator at National Grid, by cutting demand by up to 400 megawatts – enough electricity to power the homes in a city the size of Edinburgh.
According to Paul Lowbridge of National Grid’s ‘power responsive’ programme ‘Hospitals are very resilient sites’ well able to turn down their air conditioning systems and reduce the demands on the grid.
As for back-up generators, these are just sitting around waiting for an emergency cut in the electricity supply that would kill anyone on life support systems, much better that they are used to generate electricity in the event of a power cuts and so bail out the energy companies.
Several hospitals have signed up to this plan and National Grid is in talks with the Crown Commercial services to sign up hundreds more. The beauty of this scheme for the private energy companies is that it would be cost effective for them in that they would not have to invest in building any more generator plants to ensure an adequate supply of electricity at all times.
As for the hospitals, despite all the reassurances that no patient would suffer, the fact remains that they will become nothing more than a resource to be exploited by the government and privateers. If any patient dies as a result, well that’s just too bad, a small price to pay for keeping the lights on.
Hospitals will be used to cover up the fact that the privatisation of the energy industry by the Thatcher government has resulted in sky high prices for gas and electricity, while the refusal of the companies to invest in replacing old coal power stations with secure generating plants has led to a crisis in energy supplies and the continued threat of blackouts.
The question is where will the downgrading of hospitals into just another resource to be exploited in the cause of profit by private industry end? When the NHS is viewed not as an essential public service, free at the point of need, but as primarily a provider of electricity the possibilities are boundless.
Already hospital sites are seen by the government and speculators as little more than potential housing projects where millions can be made, why not go the whole hog and turn off all the lights, kill the air conditioning and re-brand them as mini-power stations.
Perhaps the next step would be that any fatalities arising could be used as fuel for the furnaces powering the whole enterprise. This may sound over dramatic but the implications of this move to transform the NHS and hospitals in particular as money making enterprises strikes at the very foundations of the health service.
Taken to its conclusion, as the Tories want, it means the end of the NHS and its replacement with a fully privatised health system run strictly for profit, where the lives of patients count for nothing on the corporate balance sheet.
The way to solve the country’s energy supply crisis is not to ‘recruit’ hospitals but to re-nationalise the industry and place it under the management of the working class as part of a planned socialist economy.