ON FRIDAY, the Health Secretary Hewitt announced that the NHS is heading for a £623 million deficit by the end of March.
This deficit is the direct result of the establishment by the government of a health market where the pricing mechanism ensures that a Foundation Hospital never has enough cash to treat the patients in its catchment area. This is especially so while at least £15 billion of the NHS budget is being handed out to private medical practitioners so that they can make a big killing out of doing NHS work.
Hewitt’s remedy is to send in the hit squads (her so-called ‘turnaround teams’) specifically to drive forward massive bed and ward cuts, and A&E and hospital closures.
Also on Friday, The Royal College of Nursing issued a response to Hewitt’s plans. It said that the deficit could hit £1 billion in acute and community trusts in England and lead to 3,000 staff losing their jobs, including up to 1,000 nurses.
It warned that deficits ‘must never mean bed closures, job losses and job freezes’.
However, the job of the ‘turnaround teams’ is to organise precisely these solutions, no doubt including handing over the management of failed hospitals to the private sector on the most profitable terms.
Blair and Hewitt intend to slash the NHS to pieces during the winter months when demand for beds and treatment is at its highest.
In many areas up and down the country there are already spontaneous demonstrations taking place against the way the NHS is being hacked to bits.
On the same day, last Friday, up popped the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, to cynically condemn early public sector retirement at 60 as ‘age discrimination’.
He announced that his remedy is to remove the ‘rule of 85’ which allows public sector workers to retire at 60 if their age and years of service equals 85.
This removal will see the deal that the government made with the public sector unions, that existing staff in the health, education and civil service sectors could continue to retire at 60 but all new staff would retire at 65, ripped up.
His intervention came in the wake of the Turner Report which recommended increasing the retirement age from 65, to between 68 and 69 in stages, in fact, abolishing the pension for many sections of workers who will never reach the new retirement ages as a result of the extra work that they will have to do and the extra stress.
This will see health workers such as nurses having to work till they are 65, then 67 and then 69 in a series of what are being termed ‘stepping stones’, literally stepping stones to an earlier grave.
What is really happening is that the working class is going to be made to pay the full price of the crisis of capitalism that has shown Chancellor Brown’s economic miracle to be based on the building up of colossal debts, all of which will now have to be paid back.
The public sector trade unions are meeting today and Tuesday to discuss the crisis that government policy is creating.
They must tell the government that it must provide the cash to cover the NHS deficit, that the public sector trade unions will defend the right of all of their members to retire at 60, and that the national retirement age must not be raised to 67 and then to between 68 and 69.
The trade unions must be prepared to call strike action on these issues, and to bring down the Blair government, in order to go forward to a workers’ government to prevent any return of the Tories.