Halt the NHS race to the bottom

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AT a time when the privately owned treatment centres are being handed billions of pounds of the NHS Budget, without any investigation of just how many operations they are actually carrying out, NHS hospitals are going to be made to advertise for patients and to struggle for their ‘share’ of the developing ‘health market’.

The private treatment centres get a bloc grant of cash, regardless of how many patients that they treat.

Meanwhile, NHS hospitals have been forced onto a payment by results system, that is payment per patient that they treat.

NHS trusts competing for ‘customers’ in a ‘health market’ means that the strongest will survive, and the weaker will go under. This is market economics.

In fact, hospitals that have been plunged into massive debt by government policy will have to advertise to fight to keep the ‘customers’ that they have, in order to keep going.

There is little doubt that this latest innovation has been designed to help engineer the closure of all of the NHS hospitals that government policy has plunged into debt.

The struggle to raise the standards of all hospitals has given way, under Blair, to the survival of the fittest, to winners and losers in the NHS, with the losers going broke, being shut down and scrapped along with their staff.

To emphasise what is going on, the Department of Health is shortly to publish a ‘marketing’ code to get this struggle for survival really going.

There is to be no cap to the amount that an NHS trust can spend on advertising. So the pressure on the indebted hospitals which are already sacking workers and closing wards, will be to try to match the spending of the better off trusts pound for pound, until the inevitable closure.

It has already been said that it will be up to individual hospitals to decide how much they spend and advertisements ‘will be one way to present the successes of particular hospitals to patients’.

The verdict of the private health company Capio’s chief executive, Tom Mann, to this development, is that ‘This is a natural part of developing a competitive market place’.

Dr Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the BMA’s consultants’ committee, said yesterday: ‘It is a sad indictment of government policy to consider spending public money on advertising NHS services when hospitals are having to make cutbacks in patient care and compulsory redundancies in order to save money.’

Karen Jennings, head of health at Unison, said: ‘The very idea that hospitals should spend taxpayers’ money on advertising for patients instead of on treating patients is simply ridiculous.’

There is no doubt that all of the trade union and professional organisations will be united against this big step forward to developing a ‘competitive market place’.

They have united in NHS Together to defend the NHS and have demanded that the government slow down its privatisation programme.

In fact, the response of the government has been to speed up the process.

One of the major parts of NHS Together, Unison, recently allowed NHS Logistics to be privatised, when a few days before, the Labour Party conference passed a motion telling the Labour government that it wanted no more privatisation.

NHS Together must now take action, otherwise it will be all together onto the scrapheap.

The government must be told that enough is enough, and that they will face a general strike.

The first step of the battle would be NHS Together calling a one day general strike.

At local level the trade unions must play the leading part in stopping all NHS cuts and closures. This means that they must take the lead in forming Councils of Action to occupy hospitals to prevent them being cut and closed.

Such Councils of Action will also lead the fight inside the trade unions to force the leaders to call a general strike, or make them quit and replace them with leaders who will be determined to use the huge strength of the working class to go forward to a workers’ government. This is the way forward.