‘No return to Poor Law!’ –now is the time to rise up says Ashton

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Last December’s march in Enfield demanding that Chase Farm Hospital be kept open
Last December’s march in Enfield demanding that Chase Farm Hospital be kept open

Professor John Ashton, who was threatened with discipline over raising concerns about the Health and Social Care Bill, has warned of a return to the Poor Law.

This week in the House of Commons it was revealed that an NHS Director had written to Ashton to say that it was ‘inappropriate’ for him to have signed a letter highlighting his personal concerns about the government’s Health and Social Care Bill.

Professor Ashton, formerly North West Regional Director of Public Health, was summoned to attend a meeting with NHS managers to explain and account for the actions he had taken.

In an essay published in The Lancet-Online First, Professor Ashton continues to oppose and raise his concerns about the Bill.

He argues that the Health and Social Care Bill heralds the beginning of a return to an insurance-based system that will recreate the divide between those who can afford access to voluntary hospitals and the ‘undeserving poor’ who will be destined for the underfunded Poor Law hospitals, but this time under the same roof.

Prof Ashton says: ‘One of the frightening aspects of the current UK Government’s policies is the apparent ignorance of ministers and civil servants not only of their own history, but of the body of evidence that until so recently informed social policy in this area…

‘Nobody should be allowed to dismantle the NHS if they have not read, understood, and digested the writings of Richard Titmuss and his colleagues.’

He adds: ‘The Poor Law concept of the deserving and undeserving poor is alive and well, and living in 10 Downing Street and Richmond House.

‘These ideas are sitting comfortably alongside the Orwellian doublespeak of the New Localism, at the same time as the UK’s rich tradition of local public health is being nationalised and centralised.

‘Although there is a commitment to reducing inequalities in health, a whole raft of Coalition Government policies is taking us in the opposite direction.’

He warns: ‘Mass circulation newspapers feed hostile and negative propaganda in defiance of the facts about public services in general and the health services in particular, softening both them and the public up for carpet-bagging private organisations to move in to cream off profitable short-term opportunities, leaving the costly areas of obstetrics, accident and emergency, psychiatry, care of the elderly – not to mention high-end, innovative surgery – to residual state provision, with massive increases in transaction costs en passant.’

He concludes: ‘At a time when the NHS has never been more popular and when there is increasing evidence of its cost effectiveness, we are sleep-walking into its destruction…

‘It is time to rise up and defend an institution that was built by our parents and our grandparents and which we owe to our children and our grandchildren to maintain and pass on to them and to their guardianship.’