General strike now to stop destruction of the NHS!


NHS HOSPITALS are facing an immediate cut of £1.6 billion, with the government ordering NHS Trusts to ‘balance their books’ by making cutbacks and ‘efficiency savings’ this autumn.

It was said a long time ago that accountants were taking over the NHS. But when the Labour government first came to office in 1997, many workers believed the process would be reversed and the needs of patients would be put before money.

Instead, the NHS is being privatised, with huge sums of money running into several billion pounds being handed over to private companies to do operations – with any ‘complications’ dealt with by the NHS – as well as handing the hospitals themselves over to private consortiums to demolish and rebuild under the notorious Private Finance Initiative (PFI).

Now, the stage is set for NHS hospitals to be closed down altogether. In the next few years at least 30 of the remaining 200 NHS hospitals with Accident and Emergency units will see their A&E units close.

Closing the A&E unit literally rips the guts out of a hospital. Many hospitals will have to close their doors altogether. Others will have to ‘take the strain’ of the extra numbers of A&E patients coming through their doors. This is at the same time as the hospitals, and their staff, are being privatised, piece by piece.

As well as more A&E closures this autumn, the other ‘efficiencies’ that will be made will include the closure of hundreds of beds and sacking of hundreds of staff. In their place will come private beds and private staff, with nursing now to be handed over entirely to private agencies, starting with district nurses and nurses in GP surgeries.

Some people have been scratching their heads because the government says it has increased spending on health care by seven per cent this year. But the ‘Strategic Health Authorities’ (SHAs) have identified 29 NHS hospitals and mental health trusts that must make cuts of £10 million each to avoid going into the red and another 22 that must cut their budgets by at least £5 million each to avoid going into deficit.

The answer to this condundrum is simple: the extra funding is going straight into the privateers’ pockets to build up the private sector whilst smashing the NHS up.

In June the National Audit Office found that the NHS in England was in overall deficit last year with an ‘overspend’ of £140 million. A quarter of all NHS Hospital Trusts failed to break even.

Now auditors are questioning the finances of at least a third of all NHS bodies. The health authorities in North-West London, Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, Durham and Tees, and Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, have been told they must each find savings of well over £100 million.

The management of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals has been told it must cut spending by 12 per cent (£37.5 million).

All NHS organisations, even those running at a ‘surplus’, have been told to ‘make efficiency improvements every year’, by NHS chief executive, Nigel Crisp.

As far as the Blair government is concerned, it is okay to ‘overspend’ on the continuing occupation of Iraq, but it is definitely not okay for NHS hospitals to ‘overspend’ on their staff and patients.

The time is long overdue for the leaders of the trade unions – not only those representing health workers but the entire trade union movement – to take action to stop the destruction of the NHS and the immediate threat to the jobs of doctors, nurses and other hospital staff.

Lamenting another round of cuts and bemoaning privatisation whilst proposing to do absolutely nothing about it is the way to assist the Blair government in its privatisation quest, so that Britain’s health service will become the equivalent of the American health care system where only the rich can afford to go to hospital.

We have seen in the last week what following Bush’s road will mean. Thousands of people have died in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina because there were no medical or emergency rescue services to save them.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) meets in Brighton next week. It must pass an emergency resolution calling a general strike to stop the cuts.

We urge all workers who wish to win this fight for the NHS to join the Workers Revolutionary Party and lobby the TUC with us next Monday. Only the WRP is building the revolutionary leadership trade unionists and youth desperately need to stop the NHS going private by mobilising the entire working class to remove Blair and go forwards to a workers’ government.