Please sign the campaigning group 38 Degrees’ open letter to Jeremy Hunt, warning him not to mess with the NHS.
Sometimes it’s almost unspeakably depressing to be living in England, in a dystopian fantasy that no one voted for, with a useless coalition government of the Tories and the Lib Dems that required Frankenstein-like engineering just to come into being.
Yesterday was one of those particularly depressing days, as David Cameron shuffled his cabinet and lurched even further to the right. Of course, there is desperation in the Prime Minister’s manoeuvring, and we should be thankful for that. Cameron has not got rid of George Osborne, of course, as he is the prime architect of the Tories’ economic policy, which involves allowing the rich to hoover up whatever they can, including that which has been secreted offshore, while obliging the rest of us to have to try and prise five pound notes out of Osborne’s hands, who it turns out, has the tenacity of a corpse with advanced rigor mortis. However, when 48 percent of voters recently gave Osborne a vote of no confidence, it was obviously significant. Cameron may be the whey-faced buffoon who can come up with an opinion at any time of the day or night, but Osborne is the whey-faced buffoon in charge of economic policy — Gordon Brown to Cameron’s Tony Blair, if you will.
48 percent of voters recognised the toxicity of Osborne, thereby providing a stunning vote of no confidence in the government, but he remained in place in the reshuffle while other buffoons got shifted around or axed. Andrew Lansley, who trailed the Chancellor with a 37 percent disapproval rating in the Guardian/ICM poll on August 28, was shifted out of health, to be replaced by Jeremy Hunt, who had a 24 percent disapproval rating as culture secretary. Michael Gove (on 36%) keeps his job as the butcher of education, Kenneth Clarke (on 28%) was replaced at justice by the incompetent employment minister Chris Grayling, and William Hague (on 21%) kept his job as foreign secretary.
Some of the shuffling needs analysing. Iain Duncan Smith held on to the Department of Work and Pensions — although apparently not without a fight — where his Victorian social Darwinism will continue to wreak havoc on the lives of those in need, even though he seems determined to prevent George Osborne from slashing the welfare bill still further. However, Grayling’s replacement, Mark Hoban, the former Treasury minister, is rather an unknown quantity, although what is known has been ferreted out by Johnny Void. There is also Esther McVey — blonde, former TV presenter — who replaces Maria Miller as minister for the disabled, as Miller now fills Hunt’s shoes. Miller was known by disabled campaigners as “Killer Miller,” and will not be missed, but McVey appears to be no better. She worked under Grayling, and earlier this year showed a worrying enthusiasm for workfare — the wheeze whereby eyewateringly wealthy corporations get welfare claimants to work for them for nothing.
What is particularly shocking about the shuffle is the replacement of Andrew Lansley with Jeremy Hunt — firstly, because David Cameron spent so long supporting Lansley’s wretched NHS reform bill, only to drop him just six months after it was finally passed, and, secondly, that he chose Hunt, a man that all but the most hardline Tories know is the epitome of sleaze and smugness, tainted by his involvement in the Murdoch takeover scandal, when he replaced Vince Cable, who had shown independence of spirit when it came to the Murdochs. Hunt, it turned out at the Leveson Inquiry, blatantly broke the law, but wormed out of being held accountable, and allowed his assistant, Adam Smith, to take the fall, as I explained in my article at the time, Can Jeremy Hunt Prevent a Tsunami of Sleaze from Engulfing David Cameron?
Alarmingly, Hunt is also — of course — opposed to the existence of the NHS. Back in August 2009, the Daily Mirror reported, “Three of [David Cameron's] Shadow Cabinet — Michael Gove, Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt — called for the health service to be dismantled. They claimed it was ‘no longer relevant’ in a book, Direct Democracy, co-authored with Tory MEP Daniel Hannan.” Mr. Hannan, the Mirror explained, “sparked outrage last week by calling the NHS a ’60 year-old mistake’ on US TV.”
As the Guardian explained, it also seems that Hunt attempted to exclude scenes celebrating the work of the NHS from Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony for the Olympics. Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, stated, “Right now the NHS needs somebody who believes in its values and is ready to stand up for it. Instead, the prime minister has given it to the man who reportedly tried to remove the NHS tribute from the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.”
Anyone in doubt that the NHS needs Jeremy Hunt like it needs a hole in the head should read the following article that Alysson Pollock, professor of Public Health Research and Policy at Queen Mary, University of London and the author of NHS plc: the Privatisation of Our Healthcare, wrote for the Guardian last week, which I’m posting in its entirety because it helps define the severe threats that face the NHS — and patients — as a result of Lansley’s evil bill, whose implementation, of course, Jeremy Hunt will be only too happy to deliver.
Staff wages and benefits eroded through privatisation is nothing compared to what is in store for patients
Under the government’s franchise plan for the NHS, shareholders and equity investors will use the service’s logo as a Trojan horse to prise open the budgets of other countries’ health systems and to front up their unethical, fraudulent and inequitable activities. However, prospective customers will be buying neither NHS services nor the NHS model of care.
Since 1948, the NHS has been the model for universal heathcare on the basis of need and free at the point of use. In 2012, parliament in England passed a law effectively ending the NHS by abolishing the 60-year duty on the government to secure and provide healthcare for all. From 2013, there will be no National Health Service in England, and tax funding will increasingly flow to global healthcare corporations. In contrast, Scotland and Wales will continue to have a publicly accountable national health service.
NHS hospitals and services are being sold off or incorporated; land and buildings are being turned over to bankers and equity investors. RBS, Assura, Serco and Carillion, to name but a few, are raking in billions in taxpayer funds for leasing out and part-operating PFI hospitals, community clinics and GP surgeries that we once owned.
Strangled by PFI debts and funding cuts, NHS foundation trusts compound their problems by entering into joint ventures. The great NHS divestiture, which began in 1990 with the introduction of the internal market and accelerated under the PFI programme, now takes the form of franchising, management buyout and corporate takeovers of our public hospitals. Virgin has been awarded £630m to provide services to vulnerable people and children in Surrey and Devon. Circle has been given the franchise for NHS hospital Hinchingbrooke and is now struggling to contain its debts. London teaching hospitals are merging to give them greater leverage for borrowing and cuts.
As for public accountability, there is none. Commercial contracts are redacted so that crucial financial information is not in the public domain. Government departments and companies refuse to release the necessary information on the grounds of commercial confidentiality and allow companies to sequester their profits in offshore tax havens. NHS staff transferred from the public to the private sector see their wages and benefits eroded. But all this is nothing compared with what is in store for patients.
In the new world it will no longer be possible to measure coverage or fairness. Former NHS hospitals, free to generate half their income from private patients, will dedicate their staff and facilities to that end, making it impossible to monitor what is public and what people are paying for.
The belief that markets distribute resources more efficiently is the basis of regional economic agreements like the European Union as well as policies imposed on developing countries by the World Bank and IMF. Britain led the way, starting with gas, water, telecoms and railways. By 2004, the whole of Whitehall was committed to putting corporations in control of what had formerly been publicly administered services. This year it is the turn of the NHS.
Loss of public control means higher cost and fewer services, as we have learned from the toxic record of the US corporations which are now part of England’s new healthcare market and helped design it. Billing, invoicing, marketing and advertising will add between 30% and 50% to costs compared with 6% in the former NHS bureaucracy.
Patient charges will become commonplace. Fraudulent billing and embezzlement will become endemic. Take HCA, one of the largest and most profitable US chains and controlled by private equity firms including Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital. In 2006 HCA International described its first joint venture with the NHS, the PFI University College London Hospital (UCLH), as “the establishment of Harley Street at UCLH”.
HCA-UCLH provides cancer treatment to those who can pay from the 15th floor of the hospital. But currently some of HCA’s American hospitals are under investigation for refusing care and performing unnecessary investigations and treatment, including cardiac surgery. A decade ago it paid the federal government $1.7bn to settle fraud charges, while former chief executive Rick Scott — now the Republican governor of Florida — managed to avoid prosecution.
This is the pattern elsewhere. Unitedhealth, which is currently providing services to the NHS, paid hundreds of millions of dollars in settlement of mischarging allegations in the US; Medtronic paid $23.5m for paying illegal kickbacks to physicians to induce them to implant the company’s pacemakers and defibrillators; GlaxoSmithKline and Abbott paid $4.5bn in fines relating to improper marketing and coercion of physicians to prescribe antidepressants and antidementia drugs respectively. Novartis, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Eli Lilly have all paid large fines for regulatory breaches.
The list is not exhaustive. In the absence of information and strong laws to prevent corporate crime and tax evasion, England’s business-friendly environment is rapidly becoming a banana republic. Franchising is not an easy win for the public. It is a profit opportunity for big business in whose interests healthcare is increasingly being run both at home and abroad.
Note: The campaigning group 38 Degrees has just initiated an open letter to Jeremy Hunt, which says, “Our NHS is precious, and worth protecting. We want Britain to always have a public health service we can all rely on. As you begin your new job as Health Secretary, we want you to know that we’re watching you. We’ll challenge you every step of the way if you try to do our NHS any further harm.” 38 Degrees add, “When we reach 100,000 signatures, we’ll take out a full page ad in The Times – Hunt’s favourite newspaper – reprinting the letter in full.” Please sign the letter if you can!
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
Thanks to everyone who has liked and shared this. Hopefully we’re seeing the desperation that precedes the unravelling of the Tories, but those of us who are awake need to keep making a lot of noise to wake up those who haven’t figured out that, if you’re not rich, you’re nothing more than economic cannon fodder to these clowns.
Graham Ennis wrote:
Well, Andy, as Lenin said…”The worse, the better”. English people are such sheep, it will take mass hunger, to get them to do their own “Arab Spring”
I know what you mean, Graham, although to be fair to my fellow citizens, the cost of living has been cranked up so much, and the rich and powerful criminals have hijacked the political process – and proven so adept at completely ignoring critics – that I can recognise why people are doing nothing, and are not necessarily sheep-like, but feel completely defeated. That said, thinking outside the box and acting on it is still needed to avert total disaster, otherwise what’s the point?
Graham Ennis wrote:
Andy, I agree, but the most prominent thing about Tories, is their utter lack of thinking……and even understanding basic ideas…..
Graham Ennis wrote:
Any thinking outside the box is going to need to come, from: ……”outside the box”, not from within the existing system
Absolutely, Graham. Politics has been myopic since Thatcher, when “visionary” enthusiasts for privatisation took over, and ever since governments have been careful not to consult too many real people, in case they ask awkward questions about what government is for, and who politicians should be serving. This Tory shower, however, have taken the myopia and self-referential obsession to new depths. As I am fond of saying, on every policy decision – and, as we know to our sorrow, there have been far too many – they appear to have made sure, on each and every occasion that they sat down to make policy decisions that affect millions of people, that there was no one in the room with any intelligence. Everything they have come up with is not only cruel, but also counter-productive, wrecking lives and the economy, in ways that will, in the end, cost more to mend in government spending than is being saved, as well as deepening the worst recession in living memory, and scarring a generation.
Ordinary people have as much impact as ants-but if enough ants bite you, they can strip you to the bone,and what the Tories are doing is digging up the anthill and trying to kill the ant queen.
Very well put, Thomas. Thanks.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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