STOP TEARING NHS APART! – UNISON tells Blair and Hewitt

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UNISON has called on Health Secretary Hewitt to ‘stop tearing the NHS apart’.

Speaking ahead of yesterday’s publication of the government’s health White Paper, the giant public sector union called on it to ‘stop and take stock of the constant revolution in the NHS or risk tearing the system apart’.

Karen Jennings, UNISON Head of Health warned: ‘Private companies, not the public, will be the biggest beneficiaries of the government’s plans to build new super-surgeries.’

She added: ‘Trusts across the country are struggling with deficits because of the government’s use of the Private Finance Initiative to build new hospitals.

‘Billions of pounds of public money has gone into building hospitals with outpatients departments which are now in danger of becoming redundant.

‘The super-surgeries will be built using LIFT (NHS Local Improvement Finance Trust), a modified form of PFI, that will lead to more profits for private companies and more debt for the public.’

Signalling more acute hospital closures, Hewitt told MPs yesterday the White Paper ‘marks a strategic shift’ that will move ‘services out of acute hospitals into community settings’.

She claimed ‘people have talked for decades of a primary care NHS.’

She said Labour ‘will now deliver it’ with ‘stronger primary care trusts, practice-based commissioning, more freedom for GPs and payment by-results’.

The British Medical Association (BMA) responded: ‘An increased focus on prevention and making services more responsive to patients and closer to them are welcome but there must be the capacity and resources to make this happen.’

Commenting on the White Paper, Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA’s GPs committee said: ‘The government must do more to address the underlying problem of capacity if this is to become a reality.

‘We still have a shortage of family doctors and fewer GPs per head of the population than most other countries in Western Europe.’

Mindful of the recent take over of GP surgeries in Derby and Chesterfield by the European arm of US private healthcare giant United Health, Meldrum warned: ‘Extending the use of the independent sector should only happen where there is an identified need and where existing providers have already been given the chance to deliver the service.

‘In many cases there has been serious under-investment in staff and premises over the years. There must also be equal access to funding and an equitable bidding process.’

He added that ‘moving care away from hospitals into the community may not always be the most cost-effective option.’

Meldrum concluded: ‘We will need further details from the government on where the money is going to come from to fund these changes.

‘Investing more in primary and preventive care is not just simply a case of disinvesting in secondary care.’

But the government is driving forward the take over of GP practices by private health firms and voluntary organisations, as well as nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals, such as physiotherapists, being given more responsibility, with a push for having clinics in high street stores and supermarkets such as Boots and Tesco.

What Hewitt is proposing is an accelerated privatisation and break-up of the NHS.

Trade unions must take action to defeat these plans to destroy one of the greatest gains British workers have won.