Trade Unions must call a general strike now to scrap the Tory Health and Care Bill!

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ON TUESDAY the Unite union, which has 100,000 members working in the health sector, wrote to every member of the House of Lords urging them to oppose the Tory Health and Care Bill which had its second reading in the House of Lords that day.

The letter sets out the concerns of the union about the bill, correctly dubbed the NHS ‘Privatisation Bill’, and urged peers to ‘protect our NHS’.

The letter also sets out amendments to the bill that it is asking the Lords to make ‘to address the worst aspects of the Bill, including ensuring that NHS suppliers/providers are the default providers of NHS services.’

The letter goes on to say that ‘The Health and Care Bill is, at its core, a privatising Bill that opens the NHS up to take-over by big business and allows cronyism and corruption in the commissioning process – not just by allowing private companies to sit on NHS boards and make decisions about the care we receive.’

This refers to the section in the Bill which scraps the rules introduced by the previous Tory Health and Social Care Act which introduced ‘competitive tendering’ on the NHS, forcing it to compete for contracts with private companies.

However, ending competitive tendering does not mean that NHS contracts will return to the NHS. What it means is that lucrative contracts can be handed out, without even the fiction of competition, to private companies and cronies of the Tory party.

This is exactly what happened in the billions of pound contracts given to Tory party ‘friends’ and giant multinational companies without any public scrutiny during the pandemic.

This Bill also gives absolute power over decisions about the NHS to Tory health secretary Sajid Javid.

Warnings that this Bill is a Trojan horse for privatisation are echoed by the doctors’ union, the BMA, which wrote to members that these new rules ‘risks making it easier for private companies to win NHS contracts without proper scrutiny’ and that there must be ‘safeguards to curb political influence over NHS policy decision making’.

In its letter to the Lords, Unite stated that it would welcome and support amendments to the Bill that would:

1. Ensure NHS suppliers/providers are default providers of NHS services

2. Ensure ICB’s and ICPs are made up wholly of representatives of public sector organisations, with the exception of GP’s

3. Ensure ICBs can only delegate functions to statutory NHS bodies

4. Ensure NHS professions cannot be removed from regulation and that regulatory bodies cannot be abolished

5. Ensure people receive their social care needs assessments before they leave hospital

6. Address the regressive impact of the social care cap

7. Ensure people in England can receive treatment in any part of the country, ensuring no postcode lottery and that any suggestions of A&Es turning people away because they live in the ‘wrong’ postcode are removed

8. Ensure this Bill does not undermine the scope of national collective bargaining and health workers’ access to Agenda for Change rates of pay, T&Cs and NHS Pensions.

This extensive list of amendments that Unite is calling for demonstrates that this Bill is an all-out attempt to privatise the NHS out of existence.

Privateers sitting on local controlling bodies making decisions about NHS provision, an open door to NHS contracts to be handed out to any corporation the Tories favour, while the new Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) that will commission health services won’t be required to serve all people living in a local area but a ‘group of people’ who can be living anywhere in England.

This will be the end of the NHS if this Bill becomes law.

What every worker knows is that all these amendments while absolutely correct will never pass in the Lords let alone the Commons. Asking the Lords to defend the NHS is a useless diversion.

What is urgently required is for Unite to immediately join with all the health sector unions and the TUC to organise a general strike to defeat this Bill by bringing down this Tory government and bring in a workers’ government that will kick out the privateers and go forward to socialism.

This is the only way to defend the NHS.