It’s now official – NHS hospitals under the Tory-dominated coalition government are set to become little more than a franchise of the leisure and hospitality industry.
This is the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the news that Cambridge University Hospital, the NHS foundation trust that runs Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridgeshire, is in the market for a private investor to fund the building of a luxury hotel in its grounds.
The plan is to create a 150-bed hotel on 35,000 acres of NHS land that will cater for the wealthy relatives of patients at the world-famous Addenbrooke’s or just plain tourists wishing to visit nearby Cambridge.
The plans do not stop at the luxury end of the hotel trade either.
The hotel is part of a £135 million scheme that involves building a 600-seat conference centre and a private hospital on the site.
The opening up of the NHS to private leisure and health companies is enshrined in the recently passed Health and Social Care Act which gives NHS foundation hospitals the freedom to raise 49% of their funds from non-NHS work.
Nearly a half of foundation trust beds and surgical theatre time can be given over to private patients.
This 49% cap on raising funds from non-NHS work completely bust the previous cap of 2% introduced by the Labour government in 2003.
This cap was introduced by Labour as a sop to divert criticism of their introduction of foundation status hospitals which operate outside central control and are free to decide how to run their services.
In turn, the Tory health minister, Andrew Lansley, set the cap at just below half in a desperate attempt to maintain the fiction that the complete privatisation of the NHS is not the immediate goal of the government.
The next step, which Lansley openly admits is his aim, will be to end the cap completely and allow foundation hospitals to raise 100% of their money from privatisation of services.
All hospitals are due to become foundations by 2014.
Addenbrooke’s is just the start of turning NHS hospitals into money spinning ventures where patient care comes a poor second to the drive to exploit NHS resources for the profit of the speculators and bankers.
How long will it be before the private partners running this luxury hotel in the grounds of Addenbrooke’s start to complain that their guests are disturbed by the proximity of sick people who litter up the landscape and spoil the views of the Cambridgeshire countryside.
Better to transform the hospital into an adjunct to the hotel, a glorified health spa for the wealthy to enjoy the benefits of private medicine.
The Labour shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, has condemned this venture as putting the NHS ‘ethos at risk’ and eroding the ‘fundamental values of the NHS’.
What he didn’t say was that this entire process started with the previous Labour governments who created foundation status and paved the way for the Tories to introduce rampant privatisation into the health service.
He also refrained from calling for any fight to defend the NHS.
NHS hospitals and the grounds they stand in are not the property of foundation trusts or the government to be disposed of and carved up for profit.
The same goes for the whole of the NHS.
The NHS is a gain that was fought for by the working class after the second world war and today it must be defended by the working class in the only way possible – that is through the organisation of a general strike to kick out this government and go forward to a workers’ government and socialism.