Politics of Health Group
July 17, 2016
NHS – on life support
By Alex Scott-Samuel
I want to give a broad political overview of what's happening in the NHS in England and of the background to the current situation.
As you'll know, the English NHS is in a bad way, with practically every part of the country in financial deficit. Many hospitals and many services are being closed down, cut back or rationed. At the same time, many long term contracts for the provision of NHS services are being awarded to private sector companies – though often people are unaware of this because the likes of Virgin, Carillion and SpecSavers are allowed to operate under the NHS logo.
By definition, these arrangements are wasteful, because private companies have a duty to make profits and to give those profits to their shareholders. That means that public money is haemorrhaging out of the NHS – whereas when a public provider of NHS services makes a surplus it is reinvested in the NHS.
There is also a substantial legacy of (mainly Labour initiated) private finance initiative (PFI) funded hospitals, whose exorbitant loan interest payments have to be made before NHS funds can be spent on routine services. And it's no coincidence that people's inboxes are filling up with adverts for health insurance, with their invitations to jump the NHS queues. Everything I've described forms part of what in my view is an intentional strategy by the Conservative government to create financial, managerial, professional and public chaos throughout the NHS, so that private provision of NHS services, alternative private health services, health insurance, and NHS co-payments and ultimately charges will be seen as inevitable.
This 'cultural revolution' takes many different and apparently unrelated forms whose destructive nature is denied by the government – which continues to assert that it has the public interest at heart and that it is factors like the ongoing impact of the credit crash, the increasing costs of drugs and medical equipment, the ageing population and our unhealthy lifestyles which are the true problems facing the NHS. The building blocks for privatisation to which I have referred currently include: the aforementioned awarding of NHS contracts to private bidders – often asset strippers who provide poor quality services, fragment and undermine the cohesive public ethos of the NHS; the creation by the Treasury of NHS deficits and of regulations which forbid them; enforced rationing of services to extend waiting lists and encourage patients to seek private alternatives; manufactured confrontations with doctors and other members of the NHS workforce; the imposition of 'new models of care' which undermine NHS hospitals and create community based healthcare structures ripe for privatisation; personal health budgets, designed to link with health insurance. There are many more and I can provide documented evidence for all of them. It is a national scandal.
What is to be done? Until we have a government committed to tackling and reversing this appalling onslaught on our beloved NHS, we must continue to expose what is happening, to challenge it and to campaign loudly and widely in order to increase public awareness and action.
Comment by Don McCanne
The phased privatization of England's National Health Service is taking a toll in undermining "the cohesive public ethos of the NHS." This brief description by Dr. Alex Scott-Samuel will give you a hint of the disaster that is taking place. Their political leaders apparently have learned nothing from the dysfunction that characterizes our system in the U.S., nor are we learning anything from them.
At a time that we need to be converting our fragmented public and private insurance system into a single public program, we are going in the opposite direction. Our public Medicare program is being privatized through similar cognitive processes as are taking place in England.
Just as the Conservative and Labor parties have conspired in these changes, here in the U.S. the Republicans and Democrats, the latter now dominated by the neoliberals, are damaging the traditional Medicare program through neglect while pushing on with fiscal and regulatory policies that have expanded enrollment in the private Medicare Advantage plans. When you read the paragraph above on the "cultural revolution" you cannot help but note the similar ethic of the two nations driving this insane march to rent-seekers nirvana at a cost of compromising patient care.
We can learn something from this, can't we?