Defend the NHS with a general strike! Nationalise the pharmaceutical industry!

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ONE in five new drugs will be rationed on the NHS under new plans to ‘save the health service money.’ This is the latest attempt to cut the throat of the NHS, denying drugs to patients on the basis that saving their lives is too expensive! Even cancer patients will be hit by this rationing, with some life-saving treatments denied because they are sold at many times the cost of production.

Drug rationing is a life and death question for the NHS and the millions who depend on it! Currently people suffering from illness have the right to be treated with drugs that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) says are ‘good value for money’.

But new ‘affordability criteria’ will mean that drugs which cost the NHS more than £20 million in total each year will be subject to extra delays or restrictions, delays and restrictions which have the potential to be lethal for many patients. The NHS now spends 15 per cent of its £116 billion budget on medications. This has increased from £13 billion in 2011 to £16.8 billion in the last year.

Pharmaceutical giants are raking in billions of pounds of NHS money, making vast profits out of sick people. Last December, drugs giant Pfizer was fined a record £84.2m (small change for Pfizer), after the cost of an anti-epilepsy drug soared by 2,600 per cent overnight. Shocked NHS officials were powerless as the price of 100mg packs of the drug jumped from £2.83 to £67.50.

In February, GlaxoSmithKline and a number of generic pharmaceuticals were fined £45 million after a ‘pay-to-delay’ scandal surrounding anti-depressant drug Seroxat. Glaxo was found to have made more than £50 million of payments to companies making cheaper generic versions of Seroxat to delay them coming to market.

US pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli also came under fire last year after he raised the price of a lifesaving malaria medication by 5,000 per cent. Once drug rationing becomes the norm, there is no doubt that it will be backdated to all expensive, overpriced drugs.

This not a new issue. A former pharmacist at Sheffield Teaching Hospital, R J Giles, MRPharmS, wrote in the Pharmaceutical Journal in 2007: ‘The drug industry should be nationalised and kept under control. It may be unfashionable to talk in terms of socialism or nationalisation, but having completed 35 years in hospital pharmacy and witnessed how the pharmaceutical industry still exerts its influence on how health care is delivered, I have no hesitation in risking being labelled a dinosaur by clinging to the belief that it should be the NHS that determines our health care priorities, not the profit-hungry drug companies.’

Well said! In fact, far from being a ‘dinosaur’, R J Giles has provided the way forward to save the NHS from being privatised and handed over to the drug companies. It has become blindingly obvious to the entire nation that a serious financial crisis has been imposed on the NHS by the government.

We have seen the worst ‘winter crisis’ to date, with A&Es being forced to shut down because they simply could not cope with the amount of people desperate to use an A&E, in a situation where many A&Es have been shut down. Other hospitals have been told to bar entry, declaring, ‘If you have not got a life-threatening illness, do not come to A&E.’

The imposed financial crisis means there is a desperate shortage of doctors, nurses, midwives and other staff. Earlier this month, the Red Cross declared a ‘humanitarian crisis’ in the NHS. However, the UK is not suffering from a natural disaster but one which has been manufactured by this Tory government. They have declared war on the NHS and the NHS is a war zone. The new Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) outline a programme of mass cuts and closures of A&Es, maternity and children’s departments in hospitals up and down the country. They even include plans to close down entire hospitals.

The crisis in the NHS can be resolved overnight if the £16.8 billion of taxpayers’ money, rather than being handed over to the private pharmaceutical giants is re-invested in the NHS. This means, as ex-pharmacist R J Giles advocates, the complete nationalisation of the pharmaceutical industry, so that drug manufacture becomes an integral part of the NHS.

This will not happen through an act of parliament. Only a workers’ revolution can restore the NHS to its former glory. And that is precisely what is developing at speed in Britain. This is why our All Trade Union Alliance (ATUA) conference on Saturday February 11 is so important. We need to build a revolutionary leadership within the trade unions through the mobilisation of the entire strength of the working class to stop hospital closures with occupations and to call a general strike to defend the NHS by bringing the government down.

A workers’ government will expropriate the drug monopolies putting an end to the NHS crisis and creating the conditions where the NHS will continue to further develop and flourish, not die as the Tories intend!