Yesterday saw the second reading of the Tory-led coalition’s Health and Social Care Bill in Parliament, a bill designed to facilitate the wholesale closure of hospitals and the privatisation of the NHS.
This is the bill that will hand control of £80 billion of NHS funding to GPs who will then have to buy in care for their patients from hospitals, private healthcare companies or charities introducing, for the first time, price competition in the NHS.
Even before the bill has reached this second reading the effects of it are plain for all to see.
In addition to the admitted 24,000 jobs in the NHS that are due to be axed, hospitals will close to cover the huge ‘shortfalls’ in funding that the coalition has not admitted to.
In north-west London, local GPs, have been shocked by a document leaked to the Guardian newspaper showing they face a shortfall of £1 billion for 2014-15.
The document states: ‘closing the funding gap will require significant changes in how we deliver healthcare.’
What these significant changes will be is simple – the closure of a local hospital.
The beauty of this, as far as the government is concerned, is that the closure of hospitals will be dictated not by them but by the GP consortia, who will be placed in the position of having to demand cuts and closures to make up the deficits in funding.
The connivance of the coalition with the private healthcare companies has also been exposed this week.
Last week, Cameron and his health secretary, Andrew Lansley, hosted a reception at Downing Street designed to ‘prove’ the popularity amongst GPs for these privatisation plans.
With great fanfare, 141 ‘pathfinder GP consortia’ were wheeled out.
This PR stunt has fallen on its face with the uncovering of e-mails proving that a private company called Tribal (which has £150 million of government contracts) gave the names of the GPs attending to Lansley’s office as suitable for the occasion, while noting that they would need to be properly ‘briefed’ as to what to say to the press.
All the spin in the world, however, cannot disguise what the future for the NHS will be with the passage of this bill.
GPs will be forced, whether they like it or not, into consortia which will be given inadequate budgets.
They will be forced to buy in healthcare from the cheapest provider – this will be initially the huge private health companies who will ensure that they undercut the NHS.
To make up shortfalls, hospitals will be forced to close and the NHS virtually driven out of existence with health provision dictated by price and not quality.
The trade union response to this all-out assault on the greatest reform ever achieved by the working class – the establishment of a health service free at the point of delivery – has been appalling in its inadequacy.
Unison, the biggest NHS union, still insists that this bill is ‘ideologically-driven’ by the Tories’ desire to introduce competition.
Nothing of the sort, the government is driven not by ideology, but by the simple fact that bankrupt British capitalism can no longer afford the NHS.
Demonstrations and pleas for them to change their minds are useless and a complete diversion from the real task of defending the NHS.
Immediately workers must demand that any hospital or ward faced with closure is occupied and kept open.
The entire trade union movement must be organised in a fight to defend the NHS through a general strike, with the aim of bringing down this government and replacing it with a workers government committed to a socialised system of healthcare.