Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Fighting to save the NHS from privatisation

The NHS is staring into the abyss of privatisation, writes Mark Booth. Now we need a national campaign to save it

THE HEALTH and Social Care Bill, is entering its final stages in parliament, and could soon be passed into law. Though it has taken a battering in the House of Lords, with over one hundred amendments attempting to undo its worst aspects, the reactionary core of the Bill remains – opening up the NHS to the full force of privatisation.

If this bill goes through the HHS will rapidly become just a logo, attached to a network of private providers. The profiteers will gobble up a huge part of the health budget. Vital services will be cut to shreds by a process of deficit reduction and outright “bankruptcy.”

Cameron has stated he is determined to force the bill through parliament no matter how much it damages the government in the polls, The Lib Dems after a sideshow of opposition, putting down amendments and then voting against them, can be relied on to vote it through with its core untouched.

The Tories contempt for democracy is staggering. First there were their election pledges – ‘no top down reform to the NHS’, ‘we’ll cut the deficit not the NHS’, and the old chestnut “the NHS is save in our hands.” In plain violation of all their promises, once in office they announced, “all bets were off.” It could be put more bluntly – “ever been had!”

Despite promises of consultation when all the union and professional bodies working in the NHS responded with a categorical NO they pressed ahead. Now despite a petition to force a debate on the bill in parliament securing over 165,000 signatures, 65,000 more than the necessary amount, the Commons Business committee refused to allocate a single day to debate the Bill.

Lansley has refused to release the National Risk Register, an official government document detailing the potential damage his reforms will do, despite freedom of information requests from several MPs. Even though the government has repeatedly lost court cases to release the register, they continue to appeal to the High Court to stop its release. Most recently when the Labour party moved a motion in parliament to have the register published it was defeated 299 to 246.

Regional risk registers published in the last several weeks have exposed the risks to patients of the fragmentation and break up of services, the fracturing of care for patients with chronic conditions and the detrimental effect of the reforms on the safety and quality of care as private health corporations initiate a race to the bottom in terms and conditions. This is what the government wants to conceal.

Where is the national campaign?

Given the massive public opposition to this bill- the huge majority who want to keep the health service with its original principles of free public provision, the question is not can this bill be stopped but why has it not been stopped already?

The answer lies with the leadership of the main healthcare unions and the TUC.

The best they have managed is lobby of parliament a night of speeches to a 2000 strong rally in Central Hall Westminster on a March 7.th Despite the heartrending litany of what NHS privatisation will mean there was not a single call to action from the leaders of the main unions.

“Left” union leader Len McCluskey said:

“We have just 13 days to save the NHS from falling into the hands of the private healthcare companies that are set to make millions in profits for their shareholders. ….We need to mobilise the hundreds of thousands of NHS employees and millions of NHS patients onto the streets in opposition to this bill.”

Fine words, but when is Unite going to call NHS unionists and NHS users onto the streets? Why have you and the other leaders left it to the eleventh hour? Not a single national or regional mobilisation has been called by any of the unions against the bill, let alone a national demonstration which could easily bring out a million.

When Rank and file health workers and members of REVOLUTION unfurled a banner calling for strike action to defend the NHS they were roughly bundled out of the hall by stewards. Earlier a student feeder march was not even allowed into the venue. Almost thousand people, including medical, nursing and other healthcare students, were left outside. Calls for action were plainly not welcome at the media-packed, photo opportunity staged by the trade union bureaucracy!

The lack of activity by the unions against the bill is truly astonishing. The NHS is the most popular institution in the country; millions would mobilise to defend it if they were given a fighting lead. The secret was a little phrase included in all the union leaders speeches in the Central Hall on March 7 – “the governments will be punished for this at the next elections.” All the big unions are in effect saying wait till we re-elect a Labour Government.

The union leaderships are terrified of unleashing mass action by their members, of linking defence of the NHS, to the pensions struggle. Why? Because they know this would cause a full scale political crisis –a mobilisation on such a scale that it could bring down the government. They believe that even if the bill passes it will almost certainly guarantee a Labour victory. The ballot box rather than the mass movement is their preferred strategy. But what would this historic act of cowardice and betrayal mean?

It means conceding the destruction of the NHS, with all the suffering and misery this will cause, in the hope that Labour will win the election and reverse it. This ignores two simple facts. Allowing the Tories to win a huge victory over the working class – as Thatcher was allowed to do in the first half of the 1980s – does not lead to the speedy return of a Labour government. Secondly if anyone believes that Labour would “buy back” the NHS from the private vultures, is living in a dream world when it was Tony Blair and Labour Health Secretary Alan Milburn who began the privatisation process

UNISON, UNITE, the GMB, the BMA, the RCN should call a national demonstration against the bill now. They should initiate a national campaign to kill the bill or the act before it can take effect.

But realistically it is grassroots unionists and NHS campaigning groups that will have to take the lead, drawing in the local anti-cuts organisations. We should convene a conference as soon as possible to plan a campaign of demonstrations, militant direct action and strikes to defend the NHS.

If you agree with this article, please join or donate
Send news, comments and reports to contact@workerspower.co.uk

Sign up for our Newsletter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *