Trade unions must take action to defend the NHS


AS far as the NHS is concerned the vultures are now gathering for the kill.

On Monday, News Line publicised a leaked e-mail from the chief medical officer Sir Ian Donaldson’s chief of staff to DoH officials ordering an ‘embargo on all new commitments’ for ‘05/06 and all future years’ covering ‘all programme budgets (capital and revenue)’.

It warns that any DoH staff failing to follow NHS finance director Douglas’ orders will ‘commit a disciplinary offence’, and adds ‘Commitment to spend by virtue of an announcement, including ministerial announcements, is not considered a commitment in this context.’

Concerning existing spending commitments, the memo states that unless a contract is fully completed, then the investment should be stalled.

The Department of Health is being put under military discipline, with any pledges made by ministers to be ignored, so that spending can be frozen for years ahead, and the large number of NHS trusts that the market pricing system has condemned to debt can be slashed, cut, handed over to the private sector or closed.

Just days before this leak, Health Minister Hewitt had said that NHS trusts were heading for £620 million of debt by next March, and that she was sending in the hit squads to make sure that at least £400 million of the debt was redeemed by cuts inflicted before the March deadline.

A freeze in all NHS spending is very much in line with this slash and burn policy.

Yesterday the right wing ‘think tank’ Reform entered the battle.

It agreed with Hewitt that the NHS was heading for a £620 million deficit and warned that unless the NHS reform (privatisation) process was speeded up the NHS was heading for a £6.8 billion deficit over the next five years.

The Reform think-tank demanded the same policy as that instituted by the NHS’ chief medical officer, a freeze on all spending and an end to the hospital building schemes, arguing that there was no need for new hospitals since more and more patients are going to be treated in the community. In their thinking a ‘hospital based’ NHS is reactionary!

‘Reform’ researchers looking at the ‘cost pressures’ on the NHS over the next five years, including the ‘consequences’ of extra staff, improved contracts, more expensive drugs and building projects, concluded there would be a shortfall of £6.8 billion unless there was a greater push for ‘reform’ and providing health care outside of hospitals.

It added that the government must go further in introducing the market into the NHS, with private firms to be given more of a role and hospitals given greater autonomy, no doubt so that the two become indistinguishable.

It also added that medical training plans should be reviewed after the recent reports of professionals, including junior doctors, struggling to get jobs once they have graduated. In a community based privatised NHS there will be no need for these hospital based ‘professionals’.

All of bourgeois society is now urging Blair and his cabal to speed up the privatisation of the NHS, and pledging in advance the full support of the Tory party for the project.

The abolition of the ‘hospital based’ NHS through massive NHS cuts and closures will prepare the way for the Tories and their Blairite allies to introduce a US style system of sink hospitals for the desperately poor and an insurance based system for everybody else.

Workers in the trade unions must say NO to this programme in the only way that counts. They must take industrial action to bring down the Blair government, to bring in a workers’ government that will defend and develop the NHS and gain the funds for doing so by nationalising the banks and the drugs industry.