Whose NHS?

March 20, 2012

In spite of widespread public outrage, nearly every Royal College opposing it and a coalition ranging from the Conservative Home blog on the right to Leftist activists at the opposite end of the political spectrum who have demanded that the government drop the Health and Social Care Bill, the coalition government have adopted the novel approach of sticking their fingers in their ears and forcing it through regardless.

Motions from both the Labour benches and the few dissenting Liberal Democrats were voted down by a government majority of 314 to 258 and 314 to 260, respectively. The only parliamentary recourse left to halt this privatising bill is in the House of Lords where David Owen is attempting to force the government to publish the findings of the risk register, thought to expose the dangers that will come were the bill to be passed. Outside of parliament, however, the fight goes on as people who really care about their health service will continue to make their voices heard. Multiple actions took place this past weekend across the country, including outside the Department of Health on Saturday and Parliament on Sunday.

An e-petition, a device encouraged by the government to supposedly improve their public engagement and democratic legitimacy, which demanded the withdrawal of the bill had reached over 174,000 signatures this week. The fact that it has been so casually jettisoned is further proof, as if it were needed, that the political class see the British public as not much more than a nuisance, impeding their efforts to enrich themselves and their friends in the private sector. Because, let’s not quibble on this, those with expert knowledge of the National Health Service have been in unprecedented consensus that this bill will lead to a dangerous fragmentation and de-Nationalistion of the English health service. That means further drift towards an American-type insurance system which has led to the richest nation in the history of this planet having a worse average life expectancy than Cuba and Chile, whilst around 30million of its citizens are still without healthcare coverage.

What’s more there is absolutely no mandate for this.  It was never explicitly set out in manifestos nor in the coalition agreement and it is widely known that the British people strongly support a public health service. For clues as to how we have come to this point, it is worth turning to the extensive research done by the Social Investigations blog. They have found that well over 100 MPs and Lords of all three major parties have direct financial interests with or have received donations from private healthcare companies or affiliated businesses as either advisors, consultants, shareholders or directors. This list includes the prime minister, the current health secretary as well as several senior former New Labour cabinet ministers. This must be acknowledged for what it is: not even just conflicts of interest but blatant corruption. It doesn’t matter if they’ve “followed the rules” (a forlorn refrain reminiscent of the expenses scandal) and registered their interest- the problem is that they have such an interest and how painfully obvious it is that this affects the direction of legislation.

Private healthcare firms and their lobbyists have been salivating at the very thought of the Health and Social Care bill. The Private Hospitals Alliance (or H5), a lobby group launched specifically to coincide with this bill to represent the five largest private hospital firms in the UK, have spoken openly within their industry of “opportunities” afforded by this bill for “public service outsourcing on a massive scale.” There is even mention of how the UK private medical insurance industry has suffered since the global financial crash but that this government’s health policy will provide a kiss of life to what is a leeching industry.

For all those who still like to characterise the Liberal Democrats as hapless fools and naïve fall guys, it is worth bearing in mind that it was a former Lib Dem Speechwriter and candidate for Islington Council, Mihir Magudia, who until recently handled the public relations for H5. Similarly, Mark Littlewood was a former chief media spokesman for the Liberal Democrats and is now a rabidly Thatcherite director general of the Institute for Economic Affairs thinktank. The Lib Dems are not locked in the boot, they are enthusiastic back-seat drivers.

This bill signals the almost complete financialisation of our public services, the completion of a thirty-year, cross-party project to make sure that this country puts balance sheets before human beings in every area of society. Tax-Payers’ money will yet again be funneled into the pockets of directors and shareholders of private companies as services are cut and cherry-picked by the swooping vultures of Aviva, Bupa, Southern Cross and Care UK (who’ve bankrolled Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s constituency office.)

It’s been particularly galling to see Labour people posing as guardians of the NHS and looking down their noses at their Lib Dem counterparts. Let’s none of us forget that New Labour have paved the way for this bill. It has followed the same path of Blairite ‘reforms’ fetishising fictitious and unwanted ‘choice’. The UK private healthcare sector grew hugely during Labour’s time in government  so that it now amounts to a £5.5billion global industry. And through Labour’s own complicity they have crippled any credible platform for parliamentary opposition leaving the government with an easy get-out that they repeatedly sneer across the despatch box: “We’re only finishing what you started.”

Some of us have always opposed ALL private encroachments into our health service. Some of us believe that the profit motive has absolutely no place muddying the waters of our nation’s health or education. Lib Dems can delude themselves that they’ve curbed Tory enthusiasm, Tories can try to delude us that they care about the NHS and Labour can barely stand up under the weight of their own contradictions. If this bill passes it will be a political bloodbath for all involved but politics should be about the people, not a dance between politicians and media. No one wins from this bill apart from faceless chief executives, the rest of us will all lose one of the few things left, despite its flaws, which we can be proud of in this country. This political class appear hell-bent on making our lives unliveable, in return we must make the path they’ve chosen unprofitable and unworkable. The fight should not stop at the point at which legislation is forced through. It is our NHS, not theirs. Don’t let them take it from us.


By Natalia Sanchez-Bell & Michael Richmond