AUDIT Scotland, the public spending watchdog for Scotland, has issued a damning report on the NHS funding crisis, which it states is in a critical condition. Although focusing on the crisis of the NHS in Scotland, this report could have been written about the financial debt crisis that is overwhelming the health service in every corner of the UK.
The Audit report revealed that real-term funding of the NHS in Scotland fell by 0.2% last year to £13.1 billion, a drop that has failed to keep up with the rising costs of health care, including massive increases in the cost of drugs and the demands of an ageing population.
On top of this, NHS boards in Scotland faced paying out £899 million for repairs to buildings, repairs that had been put off and delayed in the past in order to save money but which are now becoming urgent if hospitals and other buildings are not to become dangerous to patients and staff.
Eight Scottish NHS boards are forecasting deficits of £132 million by the end of this year, while a number have had to claim £102 million in emergency loans from the government to keep going.
The Audit agency’s call for ‘decisive action’ to prevent the NHS from collapsing amounts to little more than begging for more money and for more ‘robust financial management’ and better long-term planning – they have no solution to this crisis. The acute crisis in Scotland is more than reflected in England where NHS trusts reported a combined financial deficit of more than £1.2 billion by the end of last year, along with 100,000 staff vacancies.
In fact, this massive debt is much worse, with trusts covering up deficits through one-off savings like flogging off NHS property and land to speculators. While the NHS is drowning in debt, with hospitals and departments being closed to make savings and patients last winter left in their hundreds on trolleys in corridors, the capitalist class are raking in huge profits out of the health service.
The Audit agency pinpointed, amongst other increased costs, the sky-high cost forced on the NHS by drug companies. More than £230 million a year is lost to the NHS through the price of medicines being increased hundreds of times above the cost of ingredients.
This week it was revealed that a mouthwash used for chemotherapy patients to relieve mouth pain is being sold to the NHS for over £1,000 a bottle according to MP Dr Philippa Whitford. This is just one example of rip-off prices which Dr Whitford maintains adds an ‘estimated £5bn to £10bn to NHS costs’. The pharmaceutical companies aren’t the only ones ripping off the NHS and forcing trusts and hospitals across the country into bankruptcy.
Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deals are bleeding the NHS dry as it struggles to repay the huge interests on PFI loans forced on trusts in the past. This year, Theresa May pledged that the Tories would boost NHS spending by £20 billion, while not bothering to explain where this extra money would come from, except that it would be made through even more ‘savings’.
Even if this £20 billion did miraculously appear, it would be swallowed up immediately repaying the interest on the massive debts owed to the hedge funds and speculators who bought up PFI contracts and have been milking the NHS for billions.
At the same time, the privateer vultures circle, waiting for hospitals to be declared as economic ‘failures’ so they can step in and fulfil the real intentions of the Tories and capitalist class to end the NHS as a free service and replace it with a fully privatised health system.
The only way to defend the NHS from being destroyed by a capitalist system that demands profit above everything, including people’s health, is to put an end to capitalism through socialist revolution. The working class must demand that the TUC take action by calling a general strike to kick out the Tories and advance to a workers government that will nationalise the banks and drug companies and cancel all debts to the hedge funds and speculators. This is the way to defend the NHS.