Breast cancer scandal inevitable outcome of Tory privatisation of NHS – time to kick out Hunt and the Tories!

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LAST WEDNESDAY, Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt apologised ‘wholeheartedly and unreservedly for the suffering caused’ to the hundreds of thousands of women who were not invited to breast cancer screening due to the failure of a computer algorithm that dated back to 2009.

In his statement, Hunt admitted that between 135 and 270 women could have had their lives ‘shortened as a result’ of a computer error that has remained undetected for nearly ten years. He further admitted that his department had been made aware of this lethal failure of the system back in January by Public Health for England but had done nothing about it as they advised that there was only a limited risk to life.

Hunt accepted ministerial responsibility but didn’t feel that this admission was grounds for resignation. Presumably, hundreds of lives at risk of being shortened are nothing compared to Hunt keeping his job. The Labour opposition also refused to call for him to go.

The line being peddled that this is some isolated incident due entirely to a mistake in 2009 is a complete whitewash that covers up the numerous examples that have emerged over the years of the failure of private companies running services for the NHS. From the outset, this drive to centralise and computerise NHS systems was driven by one aim only, to cut costs and jobs. In accordance with the Tory privatisation programme, large outsourcing companies overnight became IT experts and took on the lucrative job of what was always a massive and risky undertaking.

The giant American consultancy company Accenture and even British Telecom were quick to jump on the bandwagon snapping up multi-million pound contracts. The whole thing crumbled with Accenture pulling out in 2006, having had its fingers burnt and discovering that the entire project was actually costing them money. BT similarly ran from its contract as did the other main private companies involved. The whole thing was a shambles of corner-cutting and inadequate testing in an attempt to make profit. But this hasn’t stopped the privateers from seeking profit out of health.

In 2015, the outsourcing company Capita won a £1 billion contract to provide primary care support services to the NHS, an event which was welcomed by the Financial Times for it meant the ‘Deal will encourage a private sector expecting more healthcare opportunities.’

In February this year, it was revealed that the National Audit Office was investigating Capita over 162,000 items of clinical correspondence that had not been delivered and instead were being held by Capita as there was an absence of any agreed process for handling them. In a separate incident, 700,000 patient records were undelivered under the NHS Shared Business Services joint venture with the European private consultancy firm Steria for reasons never adequately explained. So far, sorting this mess out has cost £6.6 million.

The one thing that emerges clearly is that this lethal disregard for even basic standards of medical treatment is the inevitable outcome of the Tory plans to privatise every aspect of the NHS and throw it open to the privateers, whose sole purpose is to gouge profit out of health.

The use of technology in the NHS has only one aim: to cut costs and jobs, with senior NHS figures talking of the NHS needing to embrace modern innovations pioneered by the likes of ‘Uber’ and ‘Airbnb’ in order to save money. In other words, transform the NHS into the mirror image of the gig economy where patients don’t see doctors, where their records and vital correspondence are out of the hands of trained medical staff and placed at the mercy of algorithms and administered by private companies who don’t give a damn for anything but profit.

With Labour refusing to call even for the odious Hunt to go, the working class must intervene and take independent action by demanding that the TUC call a general strike to kick out Hunt and the rest of this rotten Tory government and proceed to a workers government and a socialist society where scientific and technological advances are used for the benefit of all, not for the profit of a handful of capitalists.