Yesterday, in the Houses of Parliament, a passionate and packed-out meeting took place in one of the House of Commons committee rooms, attended by well over a hundred campaigners for the NHS, at which MPs, doctors and activists spoke, and there were also intelligent contributions from the audience, as, collectively, we tried to work out how, in the short term, to resist the government’s latest plans to privatise the NHS, and, in the longer term, how to save the NHS and build a successful movement to oppose the whole of the wretched age of austerity imposed on us by the Tory-led coalition government for malignant ideological purposes; in short, in an effort to destroy the state provision of almost all services — with one exception, of course, being their salaries and expenses.
The spur for the meeting, and the rally outside that preceded it, is the government’s plan to push through privatisation of the NHS — despite explicit promises not to do so — through secondary legislation relating to Section 75 of the wretched Health and Social Care Act that was passed last year, in which almost all NHS services will have to be put out to tender by the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), the groups of GPs who will be responsible for 80 percent of the NHS budget from April 1.
Although 350,000 people recently signed a 38 Degrees petition opposing the plans (which I wrote about here), and Lib Dem minister Norman Lamb promised that the key regulations on competition in the NHS would be rewritten, the rewritten regulations have barely changed, and they still oblige the NHS to put almost all NHS services out to tender, allowing private companies to begin to devour the whole of the NHS or face legal challenges that they will probably lose, because enforced competition will have been made into a key component of the provision of NHS services.
The need to oppose the implementation of the Section 75 regulations is hugely important, and we only have until the third week of April to persuade members of the House of Lords (and particularly Lib Dem and cross-bench peers) to join with Labour peers in striking down the legislation. Opponents of the government’s plans are also encouraged to write to their MPs to ask them to sign an Early Day Motion (EDM 1188) calling for the regulations to be overturned. Find out how to write to members of the House of Lords — and what to say — on the Save Lewisham Hospital website here, and contact your MP here to ask them to sign EDM 1188, calling for the Section 75 regulations to be annulled.
At the meeting, speakers included the Green MP Caroline Lucas, the Labour MPs Diane Abbott, John McDonnell and Heidi Alexander, Liz Kendall, the Shadow Minister for Care and Older People, and the Labour peer Philip Hunt (Baron Hunt of Kings Heath). After spending some time queuing to get in, I was in time to catch Caroline Lucas, who spoke about how, under the government’s plans, “competition will be the norm” in the NHS, and that it is now clear that, when Andrew Lansley explicitly promised that the NHS would not be subjected to enforced privatisation, during the passage of his wretched legislation dealing with the NHS, he “was lying because the government’s intention all along was to privatise the NHS.”
Dr. Brian Fisher, a GP in the London Borough of Lewisham, and a key player in the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, spoke next. The Lewisham campaign is a huge movement in my home borough, resisting plans to disembowel Lewisham to pay for debts at a neighbouring NHS trust, which attracted 25,000 supporters for a march and rally in January, although Brian spoke more generally about how services will be destroyed if privatisation goes ahead, as the government plans. The health service, he said, “will look more like dentistry,” as services are cut or reduced by GPs in the CCGs, where, he also noted, there will be a potentially huge conflict of interest as GPs become responsible for commissioning services which can include those they own or in which they have an interest.
Brian also pointed out that, if the plans do go ahead and almost all NHS services are put out to tender, corporations will win the lion’s share of contracts because CCGs will fear legal challenges if they do not appoint them. As he put it, the provision of NHS services will be decided by the law courts and not those commissioning services. He stressed that the markets will run everything, and that private companies’ concerns will “trump all other considerations.”
He also pointed out that, via the CCGs, those GPs who do not wish to cash in on the possibilities offered by privatisation will be the fall guys, blamed for what is out of their hands, and concluded with a resounding defence of the NHS as a service offering “equal access to universal healthcare regardless of income,” based on general taxation — something everyone in the room applauded.
Next up was the Labour peer Philip Hunt (Baron Hunt of Kings Heath), who explained how the revised regulations are still poisonous, because, under regulation 5, the only legitimate reason those commissioning services have for not putting services out to tender is if there is only one provider. He explained how he was “convinced that the CCGs will be forced to put everything out to tender to avoid legal action,” and explained how services will be broken up, and millions of pounds will be spent on tendering and on legal advice that should be spent on services.
He also explained how the only realistic chance of annulling the regulations is in the House of Lords, and he encouraged everyone to write to Lib Dem and cross-bench members of the House of Lords to urge them to vote against the regulations when they came under discussion in about three weeks.
Barry Brown, of Unite, spoke next, pointing out that 175 NHS organisations — the Primary Care Trusts and related organisations — will be dissolved on April 1, when the CCGs and other organisations take over. However, putting the lie to government claims that it is reducing bureaucracy, he also explained that there will be over 400 new organisations in total, and, crucially, that 300 of them will be dealing with commissioning — the core of the privatisation sought by the government. He also explained that it has cost the government £3 billion to set up the new regime, despite David Cameron promising no to-down reorganisations of the NHS, and that this, plus the £2.2 billion that the NHS underspent last year, which was sent back to the Treasury, to be swallowed up elsewhere, would have been more than enough to ensure the smooth running of the NHS, had the government not been obsessed with privatising it. He also spoke about how campaigners need to be looking at how these exchanges only affect England, and to watch how the health service in Scotland, Wales Northern Ireland survives without being subjected to the hatchet of privatisation.
Diane Abbott then turned up, to encourage everyone to continue with the struggle to save the NHS, and to point out that, although, as shadow health minister, she was proud to be defending the NHS, she was even more proud to have fought against New Labour’s obsession with privatising the NHS when they were in power.
After taking issue with Jeremy Hunt’s recent, and outrageous lie about immigrants being to blame for the pressures faced by A&E Departments, she warned the audience about a further threat to the NHS currently being planned by the government — a proposal to set up an NHS inspector to grade hospitals, on the basis, of course, that those judged to be “poor” could then be handed over to private companies.
John McDonnell also found the time to visit, and delivered a rousing call to action. After noting some important facts about the potential for the corruption of GPs in the CCGs — and specifically talking about one instance in which the chair of a London CCG and three colleagues have already made £2.5 million each selling a private health company they established — he delivered the starkest warning of the day. “Within 18 months,” he said, “the NHS could be gone.”
His suggestion for further action was to declare a National NHS Day in Parliament to call on MPs to state publicly whether they are for or against the NHS, and for campaigners to surround Parliament at the same time, which strikes me as a wonderful idea. He also pointed out that campaigners need to say to the Labour Party that we need a commitment from them that anything privatised will be nationalised under a Labour government, and left us with three tips for campaigning — the need for determination, courage and solidarity.
There were other speakers both before and after, plus useful comments from the audience — from Richard Taylor of the National Health Action party, for example, who called for support for their plans to put forward candidates in marginal seats at the next election, and one speaker who raised the question of the horrendous PFI debts crippling parts of the NHS, which need to be written off as naked, criminal profiteering. I also took the opportunity to discuss the role not just of politicians, but of the medical directors of the NHS, whose fingerprints are all over the plans to cut services, departments and hospitals, and who need to be called to account for their betrayal of the health service — our health service — that they work for.
For now, please follow up on the urgent need to write to members of the House of Lords and write to MPs asking them to sign EDM 1188. Please also sign the 38 Degrees petition if you haven’t already, and keep telling people what’s happening. far too many people don’t know and will only be weeping when the NHS has gone. As Philip Hunt pointed out, even the professional medical bodies are slow to recognise the threat from the Section 75 regulations (the BMA’s recent position is here, for example, but other bodies, disappointingly, are not yet on board).
The NHS remains the single most important institution in the UK, providing, as Brian Fisher put it, “equal access to universal healthcare regardless of income,” based on general taxation. It must be the issue on which, along with the disgraceful treatment of the disabled, this government falls, but it must be saved from destruction before then, and the Labour Party, if it wishes to be credible, must make cast-iron guarantees that it will run an NHS for the people according to what the people need.
As I am fond of saying, we would all pay more for the NHS out of taxation if it was audited openly and no savings could be made that didn’t involve cutting frontline services. Instead, however, we have politicians and some medical professionals intent on privatising the NHS for their own gain, and for the benefit of their corporate chums, and their financial gain will be everyone else’s loss unless we fight to resist them.
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, 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.
On Facebook, Giacomella Jackie Milesi Ferretti wrote:
You’re welcome, Giacomella. The NHS is the service that’s dearest to my heart.
Aleksey Penskiy wrote:
Thanks, Andy, as you say- media silence
Actually, Aleksey, I’m shocked at the silence regarding yesterday’s event, and the ongoing threat to the NHS from the Section 75 regulations, which remain toxic for the NHS despite LIb Dem promises to amend them.
Breeze Edwards wrote:
Breeze here,in the US. My prayers are with you. I hope the UK doesn’t end up with the mess we have here now. Obama has fell so short of his promises, that I’m ashamed to admit I voted for him. From Medicare to Guantanamo,it’s appalling.
Thanks, Breeze. Good to hear from you, and thanks for keeping us in the UK, and our beloved NHS, in your thoughts. I make no excuses for Obama, but the problem everywhere is that all the major political parties serve only the banks and the corporations. They don’t care about ordinary hard-working people. They care only about the rich.
Jennah Solace wrote:
This is very,very sad. Two (unrelated) things come immediately to my mind. What if the UK hadn’t gone to war with Iraq and Afghanistan and could the UK stop giving tax breaks to the rich? Could they then afford to help their sick? — ‘Joining the US invasion of Iraq cost Britain in the obvious ways of human casualties – 179 servicemen and women lost their lives – and money. A conservative estimate is that the war took just short of £10bn from the UK Exchequer.’ (http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/editorials/editorial-iraq-10-years-on–this-war-damaged-the-uk-at-home-and-abroad-8539583.html) —”Britain has become the location of choice for many of Europe’s super rich because of a tax break which allows them to be physically resident in the country but “non-domiciled” for tax purposes.
For a fee of 30,000 or 50,000 pounds per year, depending on how long one has been resident in Britain, an individual with foreign ties can apply for “non-domiciled” status and be taxed only on money earned in the UK or brought into the country. In practice, many super rich people enhance the benefit of this status by keeping even UK assets offshore, by ownership via foreign-registered vehicles.” (By Tom Bergin, for Reuters)
Good to hear from you, Jennah. I realised I hadn’t heard from you from a while, and was about to inquire about you. Good timing!
As Barry Brown of Unite explained at the meeting on Tuesday, the government has spent £3 billion on its changes designed to privatise the NHS, and the NHS underspent by £2.2 billion last year, money that was sent back to the government, where Osborne decided to confiscate it. The money’s there if the political will was there, but it’s not. Both the government and senior NHS managers want to savagely cut the NHS, for reasons ranging from the worthy but misguided to the malevolent.
Also, as I say at the end of the article, if we the people were asked to pay ore to support the NHS, and it was honestly demonstrated that more money was needed, we’d do it, but we’re not being asked, because that’s not the agenda. The agenda is cuts and privatisation.
That said, the money squandered on war, and the outrageous tax breaks for the super-rich are both remorselessly disgraceful, of course!
My mother had her life saved by the NHS-if it’s destroyed we could face having to pay huge amounts going private,as she can’t be insured. This government is one of the worst ever and whatever happens the Lib Dems will suffer at the ballot box because of it.
Yes, I believe it was you, Thomas, who first pointed out to me the problem with the uninsurable – almost certainly me too, as I have a chronic blood disease – or two. People seem to be sleepwalking into the loss of services that will throw us all back to the inequalities of the 1930s.
hello andy ive been watching gerald celenti dont metion the 30s he,s been saying this is all leading up to ww3 seems history is repeting itself ..i hope not though one thing i know is the rich have declared war on the poor
I hadn’t come across Gerald Celente before, Damo. Here’s his site: http://www.geraldcelente.com/
I’ll try and find the time to check it out.
Jennah Solace wrote, in response to 8, above:
So what’s in it for them (the government) to privatize?
Alces Acres wrote:
Canadian here. We didn’t join the Iraq war and they are still trying to undermine our health system. Andy is right western governments these days ONLY care about big corporations and banks…our banks are still good, but our PM wants to change that…Bloody Americans, fucked up everybody..Don’t learn from history.
Jennah Solace wrote:
Canadian-British citizen here. And although we (Canadians) didn’t join the Iraq war, we did join the war against Afghanistan. And yes, our governments are pressing for privatization – but why? Is it because we’ve gone bankrupt paying for our militaries?
Our governments want to privatise everything, Jennah, because, primarily, they will get to profit personally from investing in private companies, although often there are also lucrative consultancy jobs as well. The public sector doesn’t offer personal enrichment, so that’s why they’re not interested in it. It’s as simple as that. They’re all self-seeking scumbags, unfortunately.
Anna Giddings wrote:
It’s being done very effectively by the back door. Look at Air Sea Rescue as well as the NHS. Labour as I remember out of office they say they would re nationalise everything but then we had Tony Blair. And thereby hangs another sad tale.
Yes, that was when the rot truly set in, Anna. Once New Labour had adopted key Tory policies – specifically about empowering big business, privatising public services, and encouraging individual wealth above everything else – the fatal transformation of society began. Now, you’re a “loser” if you’re not selfish, self-obsessed, self-righteous, deluded and materialistic, and society gets crueller by the day.
Anna Giddings wrote:
And you are seen as weak if you don’t agree with it all. Or a dangerous lefty. It amazes me that that all the people who want peace and fairness for all are seen as the enemy or dangerous. Amazing. That’s the power of the media and politicians.
Yes, and their devious unprincipled message is proving to be rather successful, sadly, Anna. We need relentless education about how we’re being lied to.
Jennah Solace wrote:
It seems after researching this subject further that privatization may be pushed onto us because England is now a part of the EU and is therefore falls under the larger umbrella of EU laws. What is the meaning of “anti-competitive behaviour” – as found in this document by ‘Monitor’
http://www.monitor-nhsft.gov.uk/home/news-events-publications/consultations/consultations-and-engagement-monitors-role-sector-regula-2 [note: Jennah's link didn't work, so I found this one, but it might not be the document she meant. Feel free to check Monitor's site yourself: http://www.monitor-nhsft.gov.uk/ ]
‘Anti-competitive behaviour’ — sounds very extremist capitalist to me! Breaking down the social safety net of the National Health Care system for the British population for the sake of ‘fair competition’ is pure madness. Translated it suggests that those who can afford to ‘compete’ will be afforded good care and those who cannot – will be losers! What kind of society will that be? Are we sliding back to the middle ages? One paragraph of this document states: “The Health and Social Care Act 2012 (the Act) gives Monitor concurrent, or shared, powers with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to enforce provisions of the Competition Act 1998 (CA98) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) in relation to the provision of health care services in England. We refer to these laws as competition law in this document.” This is also a fascinating read: http://www.oft.gov.uk/shared_oft/market-studies/Oxera_Market_definition.pdf — It’s a study which refers to Private Health care as a ‘product market’! This is a highly skewed way of thinking about healthcare – as a ‘product’ that consumers must purchase. It’s in absolute conflict with the true and fundamental fairness of the NHS which makes healthcare available to all – especially those who would otherwise not have access to it. Here is a much better site to visit and support — http://www.keepournhspublic.com/index.php — Keep our NHS Public!
Thanks, Jennah. You’re right about the EU, and there are also, I hear, worrying US-EU agreements on the way too, but don’t forget that many Tories want us out of the EU, in which case the privatisation would be just UK-based. We’re facing the same destroyers of the state provision of services everywhere we look, and wherever we live, and we need to tackle it locally, national and globally.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: