PRIME Minister Tony Blair made clear yesterday that the government is determined to force through the cuts and closures, privatisation and destruction of the National Health Service.
He told a formerly unheard of grouping, the New Health Network: ‘So, now, if the general thrust and direction of the present reforms are right (which Blair had insisted they were), this is not the moment to back away or dilute these changes, but rather the moment to hold our nerve, back the change-makers in the NHS who are making it happen, and see the process of change through.’
What brought Blair out of his bunker in Downing Street to speak about the NHS, amid scandals over the alleged sale of honours, uproar over the Education Bill and the occupation of Iraq debacle, was the rage which has erupted amongst patients, local communities and health staff over ward closures, service cuts and sackings in the NHS.
The government is clawing back about £800m, which has been spent on healthcare in NHS hospitals (so-called ‘deficits’), by slashing services. In the last three weeks, about 10,000 NHS jobs have been axed, including hundreds of doctors and nurses.
Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has sent in hit squads (‘turnaround teams’), big business accountants groups like PriceWaterhouse Coopers, KLMG and Ernst and Young, to hold the managers’ hands while they wield the axe on behalf of the government.
Blair boasted that, through the Private Finance Initiative, property developers had built 138 new hospitals, owned them and were leasing them to the NHS. It is a very profitable business with their own ancillary staff and everything funded by taxpayers.
Alongside this the government is creating Foundation NHS Hospital Trusts, run like independent private businesses.
Blair added: ‘We have reached crunch point, where the process of transition from one system to another is taking place. Four different but interlocking changes are happening at once.
‘First, there is practice-based commissioning. Care in the secondary (hospital) sector will be commissioned by GP practices.’ This provides financial incentives for GPs to ration hospital appointments. Non medically-qualified staff will provide ‘Care in the Community’.
‘Secondly, alongside this, will be a payments by results system for hospitals.’ This is a refinement of the Tory purchaser/provider system, as Blair acknowledged.
‘Thirdly, patients are being given a choice of NHS provider.’ Special ‘advisers’ will get patients to opt for private healthcare corporations.
‘Fourth, there will be new independent providers encouraged in the NHS, of which the ITCs (Independent Treatment Centres) are the first wave.’ Profit-hungry private corporations are to expand from routine surgical procedures into diagnostics, that is imaging, pathology, etc.
The fury provoked by this wholesale privatisation and destruction of the NHS is erupting everywhere.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) launched a petition yesterday to get public support for its opposition to the ‘job and patient service cuts because of NHS deficits’. The RCN is organising a lobby of Parliament and rally on May 11.
Karen Jennings, Head of Health at UNISON, Britain’s largest trade union, said the union was asking Blair to ‘stop experimenting with the nation’s health’ and warned that Blair’s reforms were ‘leading to the break up of the NHS’.
But Blair had made clear that any calls for a change of course are falling on deaf ears. It is time for the trade unions to give a lead to the whole working class and millions of middle class people who are up in arms over the government’s destruction of the NHS.
It is urgent that the Trades Union Congress be forced to organise a general strike to defend our health service before it is too late.
At every hospital threatened with closure, cuts and sackings, there must be strike action to defeat these measures and defend services.
Hospitals threatened with closure must be occupied and councils of action formed, consisting of local unions and community organisations, to organise this defence of our hospitals.
The working class must act immediately to bring down this hated government. Instead let us have a workers’ government that will throw out the privateers, restore the NHS and go forward to socialism!