We have one year to save the NHS, that’s why I’ll be voting for the National Health Action Party.
We have one year to save the NHS, that’s why I’ll be voting for the National Health Action Party
Whether we like it or not, the NHS’s last hope is that the Tories and Lib Dems get booted out next May, before they unstitch the entire fabric of our healthcare system. And a Labour government that is committed to saving it must be elected.
However, that doesn’t mean that you need to hold your nose and vote Labour just yet.
Just as the UKIP bandwagon wants to pick up the Conservative leadership and drop them off in a Euro-sceptic Promised Land next year, so a National Health Action Party (NHAP) result can direct the Labour Party manifesto. Only by getting Dr Louise Irvine elected as an MEP, the GP who chaired the spectacularly successful Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, will the Labour Party take notice of the importance of our health to our voting intentions.
New Labour sharpened the axe for NHS cuts, with marketisation, PFI and Foundation Trusts. But the coalition government has replaced the axe with a kamikaze aeroplane.
Firstly, despite no electoral mandate to re-organise the NHS, they replaced its entire working with a blueprint for mass privatisation in the Health and Social Care Act.
They removed the duty of the secretary of state to provide universal healthcare. They passed a Hospital Closure Clause (Clause 119) that allows the health secretary to use emergency powers to close any hospitals and services he likes, at the recommendation of people he will appoint. The last-ditch attempt by the Lords to add accountability to clause 119 could offer little protection to hospitals against the clause’s unjust power, arbitrarily applied.
On top of this are the cuts. The ‘Nicholson Challenge’ demands £20 billion of NHS cuts, in this climate of reorganisation and takeovers. Frontline jobs are disappearing, services are being cut. The greatest trick the Tories played was to convince us that the NHS never existed. As the population gets older and fatter, the population’s aggregated health needs have been re-categorised as the cause of the NHS’s problems, not the reason for its existence.
And despite being the Labour Party’s greatest legacy, the NHS will not be saved by until their manifesto reflects this.
Fully armed to destroy the NHS, the health secretary has now moved on a stage, and will spend a year trying to blow it apart. Jeremy Hunt signed up to a plan to replace the NHS with a system of ‘personal healthcare savings’ accounts – an idea that is even more exclusionary than a system of private insurance. His recent appointments at NHS England, Monitor and the CQC are designed to inflict as much damage as possible, as quickly as possible.
Simon Stevens comes to Monitor after spending the last nine years at American health firm, UnitedHealth. Before that, he was the man behind New Labour’s Independent Sector Treatment Centres. These featured agreements that gave massive sums to private health companies, regardless of the amount of work they botched, didn’t do or refused to do. It was the classic case of throwing money at problems (waiting lists) to make them go away, rather than investing in the NHS.
Dr David Bennett has stepped off the political/private-sector merry-go-round as the new chief executive of Monitor. Previous to this, he spent 18 years as a senior partner at private consultancy firm McKinsey and Co, and was then head of Tony Blair’s policy directorate. McKinsey, you may remember, received £250k a year to advise the government on the Health and Social Care Act.
The law they helped write now sends vast sums of money their way to advise CCGs on spending public money. And their former employee, Dr David Bennett, is the man in charge of enforcing commissioning rules, telling CCG’s what they must and must not do. For starters, they must not keep NHS services in-house without creating a commissioning process that will require costly, expert advice… from people like McKinsey.
The most brazen appointment to date, though, is David Prior, chair of the Care Quality Commission. He has the job of overseeing the NHS’s official regulator, the organisation that inspects the NHS and holds it to account. In the past, he was the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, and seems to have confused his role as an independent critic with that of a reforming ideologue, making pronouncements that the NHS will “go bust” if it doesn’t change.
These are the three kamikaze pilots willing to sacrifice their public sector jobs next year in the knowledge that their personal re-birth in the private sector will be more lucrative, heavenly even. The damage these QUANGOs and the healthcare market can do if given six more years to enact Tory changes will be undoable. The NHS will be a case study of a socialist healthcare system that was eroded then cannibalised by capitalism.
Andy Burnham has pledged to repeal the Health and Social Care Act if he becomes health secretary. This would undo the hospital closure clause, the wholesale privatisation, and reinstate the duty of the secretary of state to provide universal healthcare to the people who voted for them.
Labour should also take the responsibility for PFI debts off the books of individual trusts, if not renegotiate or default on them. They should never have been obliged to repay exorbitant debts for buildings that are part of a national health service. The original NHS hospitals were not built, during the post-war austerity era, by placing massive financial burdens on local organisations. A healthcare trust cannot meet PFI debts and meet the health needs of a local population as things stand.
Something has to give, and for too long, it’s been the local health needs.
If an NHAP candidate is elected in Europe, Ed Miliband can no longer hide from the biggest issue facing the health of his and his party’s future. It should catalyse a Labour revival on the NHS, inspired by the mobilisations already seen to save hospitals in Lewisham and Staffordshire.
The Conservative Party will spend one year in charge, butchering the NHS for their financiers, executing the destructive laws they’ve passed. The left has one year to make the Labour Party salvage it.
Iain Wilson is a nurse and was secretary of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaignLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.