PFI debts are strangling NHS

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LAST Friday, the ‘independent’ health care regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), finally issued its report on healthcare provision at the Barts Healthcare Trust, the largest trust in England.

This report was damning, accusing the trust – which comprises six hospitals and other regional healthcare centres in north east London – of being ‘inadequate’ in all areas of health provision.

Whipps Cross hospital in east London was singled out as inadequate and placed in ‘special measures’ in March and this latest report from the CQC has added two other trust hospitals, Royal London in Whitechapel and Newham in Plaistow, to the hit list of failing hospitals.

All these hospitals were found to be running with dangerously low levels of staffing, overcrowding and bed shortages – all of which have created huge problems for the dedicated medical staff trying to administer to the health needs of over two and a half million people.

What the CQC report ignores is the fact that Barts Trust, along with nearly every other trust in England, is being deliberately strangled by massive debts incurred by being forced into agreeing Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deals on top of all the cuts to the NHS as part of austerity measures.

In 2006, under the Labour government, Barts signed up to a £1.1 billion deal to rebuild hospitals, the whole deal was financed under PFI whereby private money was lent to the trust, tying them into legally binding repayment agreements at usurious rates of interest.

PFI had originated under the Tory government of John Major but it was under the Labour government of Blair and Brown that it exploded in the NHS as a means of privately financing the NHS, a trend that was continued under the Tory-led coalition government.

The cost of PFI schemes is absolutely staggering. The PFI deal Barts signed up to is for 43 years, since 2006 this £1.1 billion contract had burdened the trust with debts of £93 million.

It has been calculated that if the PFI agreement runs its course for another 33 years it will cost the trust at least £6.5 billion more.

Barts may be the biggest NHS trust to be saddled with an unrepayable debt but it is not alone.

There are about 720 PFI contracts covering NHS and other public building works, all of which are funded by the taxpayer.

In total the public ‘owe’ an estimated £222 billion to the banks and private firms. By 2050, when the majority of these PFI deals come to an end, Britain’s total PFI bill is estimated to have reached £310 billion.

These massive repayments to the banks and speculators – in most cases the original contractors who actually built the projects have subsequently ‘sold-on’ the PFI contract to banks and hedge funds – is being paid for out of the savage austerity cuts being inflicted on the public services.

PFI has been described correctly as being used to ‘systematically’ privatise the NHS by bankrupting trusts like Barts, causing acute problems through staffing cuts and bed shortages as the management implements cut after cut to budgets in order to pay the bill, alongside the cuts inflicted by the government through austerity.

Special measures are then brought in as preparation for the outsourcing of NHS services followed by complete privatisation and hospital closures.

This is the systematic plan implemented by the last coalition now being driven by a Tory government committed to bringing down the vast budget and national debts run up by PFI and bailing out the banks.

This threat to Barts hospitals like Whipps Cross must be met by a campaign to prevent closure and defend all services through occupations and strikes.

Councils of Action must be built in every area to unite patients and workers and organise this struggle.

Alongside this fight against privatisation and closures must be a campaign to force the TUC to call a general strike to bring down this government of privateers and bring in a workers government that will repudiate all debt and advance to a socialist society.