ON SUNDAY the 72nd anniversary of the NHS, created in 1948 by Clement Attlee’s post-war Labour government, was marked by handclapping, with Boris Johnson and Tory health minister Matt Hancock applauding the NHS and health workers in a highly cynical display of support for a vital service that the Tories have systematically attempted to drive into the ground.
Unfortunately for this orchestrated display of phony support for the NHS, Sunday was also the day when it was revealed that NHS bosses have accused Tory chancellor, Rishi Sunak, of breaking his solemn pledge to give the health service ‘whatever it needs’ by refusing to give the NHS the £10 billion it needs to avoid being overwhelmed by a second wave of the coronavirus.
NHS England chief executive, Simon Stevens, has told Sunak that the extra £10 billion this year is vital to fund the fight against coronavirus and reopen normal services.
The fear is that a second wave of coronavirus is almost inevitable, especially following the Tories’ rushed back to work campaign, and that this will coincide in winter with a seasonal flu outbreak.
The sticking point for Sunak is the insistence by Stevens that the government continues to fork out the £2.4 million a day that it pays to private hospitals.
In March, anticipating that NHS hospitals would be overwhelmed by the virus, the Tories bought out over 8,000 private beds to treat NHS patients.
Stevens wants this funding to continue until at least next April as NHS England is predicting waiting lists for surgery could reach as high as 10 million by Christmas. None of this worries Sunak and Johnson.
They can hand out £300 billion to the bosses and bankers to prevent them from crashing into bankruptcy but will not provide £10 billion needed to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.
From its inception in 1948, the Tories and the capitalist class have hated the NHS as a free service, and have worked to undermine it and open it up to privatisation at every opportunity including the opportunity made available by coronavirus.
At the start of the crisis in March, the Tories rushed through special powers to bypass normal tendering and award a string of contracts to private companies and management consultants without open competition from local public health services.
Private contracts for everything from testing to track and tracing have been handed out to the privateers, and today it is estimated that 26% of the NHS budget is spent on these contracts.
Back in March, a leaked email from Rupert Soames, chief executive of one of the main privateers Serco, put it bluntly saying that the award of a test and trace contract would ‘cement the position of the private sector’ in the NHS.
Where the people viewed coronavirus as a health emergency the capitalists saw it as a golden opportunity to take over the NHS and put an end to the free health service that workers fought to establish 72 years ago. It is clear that the working class will not surrender the NHS to the privateers.
On the anniversary, the campaign group ‘We Own It’ published poll findings showing that 76% of the public want an end to privatisation and for the NHS to be ‘reinstated as a fully public service’, while 83% said the NHS should be completely nationalised and privateers evicted from the health service.
The fact is that the Tories are determined to push forward to the complete destruction of the NHS and to replace it with a US-style private health system where the huge medical corporations and the pharmaceutical industry can reap huge profits.
The only way to defend the NHS is not through clapping but by forcing the TUC to end its collaboration with the Tories and immediately call a general strike to kick them out and bring in a workers’ government that will take over the private hospitals, expropriate the privateers and the bankers, and go forward to socialism.
Only a socialist planned economy can guarantee a free national health service for all.
This is the best way to celebrate the anniversary of the NHS.