Take Strike Action To Defend The NHS

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THE Royal College of Nursing, the nurses trade union, yesterday announced that it is seeking a judicial review to force the Blair government to carry out a public consultation on the government’s proposals to end the role of Primary Care Trusts as providers of health services in 2008.

Instead, they are to be turned into a commissioner of services from the private sector, meaning that hundreds of thousands of staff, from district nurses to health visitors, and many other clinical service disciplines will be transferred to the private sector, and even to private agencies.

Last week, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt came under fire in the House of Commons for failing to announce the policy to parliament.

MPs were amazed that such a decisive change in health policy was being taken with the House of Commons being kept in the dark.

The over 300 Primary Care Trusts in the NHS consume over 75 per cent of the NHS budget.

Privatising its services and the workers who provide them will hand over the majority of the NHS budget to the private sector making the change a massive step in the privatisation of the entire NHS.

The government’s privatisation ‘reforms’ of primary care, ‘Commissioning a Patient-led NHS’, have been controversial ever since they were made public, when the House of Commons was not sitting during the summer recess.

The RCN is seeking the judicial review on the grounds that the government did not consult on the policy before announcing it.

RCN general secretary Beverly Malone said: ‘we believe the government has to undertake a genuine consultation of their proposed reforms.’

She added there was a ‘great deal of anxiety’ among the nursing profession about the proposals.

The government proposals stated that Primary Care Trusts’ role in the provision of services will be ‘reduced to a minimum and that Primary Care Trusts will act as the provider of services only where it is not possible to have separate providers.’

Malone also pointed to the Machiavellian nature of the approach of the Department of Health.

She said that: ‘The Secretary of State said on October 25: “District nurses, health visitors and other staff delivering clinical services will continue to be employed by their PCT unless and until the PCT decides otherwise. The terms and conditions of staff will of course be protected.” The problem here is that people making these local decisions have already had a very clear instruction on July 28 to, as I have already said, reduce their provider role to a minimum.’

The action taken by the RCN must be supported by the entire trade union movement and by all users of the NHS and NHS workers.

It is however only a holding measure. In itself it will not defeat the government’s attempt to provide up to 75 per cent of the NHS budget for the use of the private sector.

The time has come when the TUC and its seven million members must take action if the NHS is to be saved from destruction at the hands of the Blair government and its private sector friends.

The NHS is the greatest gain of the working class in the post second world war period.

The TUC general council is meeting tomorrow at Congress House in central London. It must pass an emergency resolution supporting the action of the RCN and spell out clearly to the Blair government that if it proceeds with its plans to privatise Primary Care, the TUC will call a general strike to bring it down, to go forward to a workers’ government that will defend and develop the NHS and rid it of private sector intervention.