IT is now obvious that the Labour government is setting out, at breakneck speed, to privatise the NHS.
It has set up private treatment centres consuming a massive chunk of the NHS budget without setting any target that the private sector must reach for the block funding it receives.
While the private sector is feather-bedded, NHS hospitals have been saddled with debt, and now with the payments by results system, where finance is per patient treated.
Meanwhile, incentives are being given to GPs to refer patients into the private sector, and the primary care trusts are being encouraged to purchase care in the community from the private sector.
Health Secretary Hewitt is encouraging private companies to take over the management of the 75 per cent of the NHS budget that the Primary Care Trusts are responsible for, so as to commission health care from their business friends.
Hewitt has publicly stated that there are no limits to NHS privatisation. The privatisation of NHS Logistics proves that. The Department of Health is meanwhile working on privatising the Primary Care Trusts, while the big US drug companies are demanding that they be allowed to take over NHS drug provision.
The other side of their galloping privatisation is the government’s diktat that over 100 general hospitals are to be ‘reconfigured’ that is have their A&E and/or maternity departments removed, that some will be closed, and that care is to be switched from hospitals into the community.
Already the situation has been created where there is no work for thousands of nurses and junior doctors, and where the numbers of compulsory redundancies are growing.
Facing this situation, the health trade unions have been forced to form NHS Together, an enormously powerful coalition of the main trade unions and NHS professional organisations.
However, the policy of this coalition has been pathetic. It has merely urged the government to pause for breath and slow down the dash for privatisation.
This policy has been a complete failure.
The refusal to take action has encouraged the government to do the opposite, speed the privatisation process up.
In the face of this offensive, the trade union leadership has collapsed. NHS Logistics is the proof of this. A few days before it was due to be privatised the health unions won the battle at the Labour Party conference that opposed any more privatisations.
The whole country expected action to stop the privatisation of NHS logistics just a few days later. No action came. The Unison leaders allowed NHS Logistics to be privatised and nothing has been heard of the issue since.
This cowardly conduct just encouraged the government to be even bolder.
If we wait for the union leaders to act to defend the NHS we are going to be waiting for a very long time.
We have the right to an NHS but we have a duty to defend it.
This means that all trade unions, not just the health trade unions, must join together with all the community organisations and campaigns to form councils of action to stop NHS cuts and closures by occupying the threatened hospitals.
This united action by trade unions and the communities must be the basis for campaigning for local, national and general strike action by the trade unions to defend the NHS by bringing down the Blair government and going forward to a workers’ government.
This government will get the cash to maintain and further develop the NHS by nationalising the banks and the drug companies that are awash with billions in profits.
This is the only programme of action that measures up to the seriousness of the situation.
Form councils of action now to occupy hospitals threatened with cuts and closure.
Councils of Action will call for strike action by all trade unions in the localities to defend threatened hospitals.
They will also campaign for national strike action and a general strike, and bring forward a new generation of union leaders who understand that if capitalism cannot afford an NHS, it is capitalism that will have to go, not the NHS.