Congratulations to Clive Efford, the Labour MP for Eltham and Plumstead, in south east London, and the 240 other MPs who voted for his Private Member’s Bill, the National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill, which aims to repeal the worst aspects of the privatising Health and Social Care Act that the Tory-led coalition government passed in 2012 (which I covered in detail at the time, prior to successfully campaigning to save Lewisham Hospital from destruction), and to protect the NHS from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a planned trade deal between the EU and the US, which, as the #noTTIP protest group explained, will, if it goes ahead, “grant corporations the power to sue governments, threatening to lock-in the privatisation of our schools and NHS. Rules that protect workers, the environment, food safety, digital rights and privacy would be undermined, with harmful industries like fracking encouraged.” See my article about TTIP here, and my media interviews here and here.
Only 18 MPs voted against the bill, and as the campaigning group 38 Degrees noted in an email to supporters, “It looks like the government told their MPs to boycott the vote. Maybe they realised they couldn’t win.” Or maybe they also realised how unpopular their privatising reforms are with the general public, who, for a change, seem to see through their lies. The bill can now move forward in the hope of becoming law — although that is a slim chance, as Private Member’s Bills rarely get that far. As Denis Campbell argued in the Guardian, however, “the admission by an unnamed cabinet minister last month that the [2012 Health and Social Care Act] was this government’s greatest folly (quoted on the front page of the Times) and the fact that 44% of the public think the NHS is under threat from private health companies suggests Efford’s bill has caught a mood.”
As the general political landscape shifts to the right, with UKIP promoted largely unchallenged by the media, the Tories opportunistically drifting further to the right to compensate and Labour suffering a damaging identity crisis, the stage is being set for an election campaign dominated by distractions about immigration, while a dangerous truth is obscured — that, if the Tories can somehow get into power again, perhaps through another Frankenstein’s Monster coalition, they may well take us out of the EU, destroying all our human rights legislation so that we can embark on a policy of ethnic cleansing (the enforced repatriation so beloved by UKIP), as well as furthering, unchallenged, their own disastrous mission, under the guise of austerity, to destroy the taxpayer-funded state and privatise almost everything except their own jobs, with disastrous effects for tens of millions of British people.
I’m short of time right now, as I’m preparing to launch a new campaign, We Stand With Shaker, to try to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and his safe return to his family in the UK, so I’m cross-posting below what Clive Efford wrote for Epolitix, which provides an informative take on the need for his bill:
The Tories fought the last election with a promise not to impose any top-down reorganisation of the NHS. Yet two years later they did exactly that with their 2012 Act which unleashed the full force of the market onto our NHS. The Act requires NHS services to be put out to competitive tender so that any company can bid for the contracts.
The result is that millions of pounds are now being wasted on lawyers and accountants to prepare and assess tenders for NHS services whilst patients are left waiting longer and longer for treatment. Since the Act was passed some 70% of contracts that have been tendered – worth £2.6 billion – have gone to private sector companies.
The 2012 Act also allowed NHS hospitals to generate up to 49% of their income from private patients. In one hospital where private income has increased ten-fold, the number of patients waiting too long for operations each month has risen from 70 in 2010 to 490 now.
Unison has recently revealed that at the same time as the NHS is being opened up to private companies, 64 government MPs, both Tory and Lib Dem, have links to companies with private healthcare interests including some of the most senior members of the cabinet like David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
People need to realise that this pace of privatisation means the NHS will not have the capacity to compete in the future leaving us all at the mercy of the private sector. Decisions are being made in the interests of competition and not NHS patients. My Bill will reverse that.
The Bill will also give Parliament sovereignty over the NHS and will protect it from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which threatens to allow private companies to use the courts to force the wholesale privatisation of the NHS.
My Bill will not save the NHS overnight — only the election of a Labour government can do that. But it does give all MPs the opportunity to accept that the 2012 Act has been a disaster and to begin to create an NHS which puts patient care at the centre of all it does, not private profit.
I’m also posting below what Dr. Onkar Sahota, a member of the London Assembly for Ealing and Hillingdon, a practising GP and the chairman of the London Assembly Health Committee, wrote about Clive Efford’s bill on Left Foot Forward:
As a Londoner, a politician, a doctor and a parent it is my view that we must support Clive Efford’s private members bill … to repeal the worst aspects of the Health and Social Care Act.
In just two years this unmandated and top-down reorganisation has fragmented our NHS. It squandered £3bn of tax payer money at a time when real term funding has been cut for five years; it has left our NHS on its knees.
The service is being forced to the brink of privatisation and is being pushed to engage in a race to the bottom, putting pounds above patient care.
Clive Efford’s bill … aims to save the NHS from complete atomisation, competition and what has been a privatisation by Jeremy Hunt [and his predecessor Andrew Lansley] in all but name.
I have always been open minded about reforming the NHS, but what happened two years ago was nothing short of vandalism.
The coalition’s Health and Social Care Act created an NHS that is open to complete unfettered free market competition. It asks doctors to manage huge commissioning budgets which they neither have the time nor the training for, and then blames them for all that is going wrong in the NHS.
Things have simply got worse under this government, and in London we are suffering crisis after crisis. Seeing a GP is getting harder. Being a GP is getting harder. Cancer waiting times and patient experience ratings are among the worst in the country. A&E waiting times are getting longer and ambulance response times are in free fall.
Under this government’s ‘reforms’ NHS London has been replaced by 32 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG). This fragmented commissioning across London causes massive inefficiencies, internal conflicts and confusion. The NHS is fragmenting structurally and financially, none of which is good for the patients it is there to serve.
Under this government there is no trade protection for the NHS. There are fears that once the EU-US trade agreement is signed next year, US health care companies will have more power over the NHS than our own elected government.
Clive Efford’s Bill would rewrite the rules and stop the NHS being held to ransom.
It would remove the power of the NHS Monitor to act as a competition enforcer.
It would remove the NHS from any free trade partnerships and thus protect our health service from huge international competitors.
Finally, it would return responsibility of the NHS back to the secretary of state for Health, reinstating democratic accountability for the decisions made in our health service.
This bill is about protecting the NHS as a unified service to all, free at the point of need regardless of income or ability to pay. It is time we took back our NHS.
Note: There’s an e-petition in support of Clive Efford’s bill here, which needs 150,000 signatures by March 2015 to be eligible for a Parliamentary debate. You can also support it here via the Labour Party. Also, please read Caroline Molloy’s more detailed analysis of the bill’s strengths and weaknesses for Open Democracy. And don’t miss veteran Labour back-bencher Dennis Skinner tearing into UKIP’s new MP, the Tory defector Mark Reckless, on the BBC’s website. As the BBC noted, Mark Reckless “suggested that some EU citizens living in the UK would only be able to stay for a ‘transitional period’ if the UK left the European Union.” In response, “[i]n a debate on the NHS in the Commons, Mr. Skinner said that he had had a ‘United Nations heart bypass’ carried out by a Syrian cardiologist, a Malaysian surgeon, a Dutch doctor and a Nigerian registrar.”
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
Yesterday, I spent a delightful half-hour speaking to Richie Allen, a colleague of David Icke, for his show on Volcania Radio, which is streamed live via various sites, including David Icke’s, and is available below via YouTube. It’s also on David Icke’s site here.
Richie asked me first about Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner in Guantánamo, and I ran through his story, his health problems, and the disgraceful fact that he is still held, even though, for the last seven years, the US government has been saying that it no longer wants to hold him, and the UK government has been calling for his return.
Richie and I also spoke about the specific torture program that was official policy at Guantánamo in the early years, which involved, amongst other things, prolonged isolation, forced nudity, the use of extreme heat and cold, the use of loud music and noise, the use of phobias, and the euphemistically named “frequent flier program,” whereby prisoners were subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation, being moved from cell to cell every few hours over a period of days, weeks or even months, to prevent them from sleeping adequately. The use of this particular package of torture techniques only came to an end when the prisoners secured access to lawyers after a Supreme Court victory in June 2004 — although I was at pains to stress to Richie that Guantánamo remains a place that is beyond the law, and that should not exist in a society that claims to be civilized. Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday October 11, 2014, I attended a protest in Parliament Square, opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a dangerous new EU-US trade deal, which, if passed, as the organisers of the London event explained, “would grant corporations the power to sue governments, threatening to lock-in the privatisation of our schools and NHS. Rules that protect workers, the environment, food safety, digital rights and privacy would be undermined, with harmful industries like fracking encouraged.” My article published just before the protest is here.
The London event was part of a day of action across Europe and the UK, and the events across all the countries were attended by a significant number of people, although only a few hundred people attended the London event, sharing Parliament Square with Kurdish campaigners.
I was delighted to speak to RT’s Harry Fear in Parliament Square for a televised broadcast, which is available below, and if you like it I hope you share it. Read the rest of this entry »
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a dangerous new EU-US trade deal, has been on my radar for some time, and I’ve been meaning to write about it for months, particularly in relation to the NHS.
As the #noTTIP website explains:
Our democracy, public services and environment are under threat. Behind closed doors, the EU and US are drawing up a new trade deal called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). If agreed, TTIP would extend the power of big business over our society to unprecedented levels. Shamefully, the UK government are currently a major supporter. But together, we can defeat this agreement.
Tomorrow, Saturday October 11, 2014, across Europe, there will be protests against TTIP (as well as a handful of protests in the US), and I’ll be at the London protest, which takes place in Parliament Square, beginning at 2pm. There is also a Stop TTIP Facebook page here.
Some people think that protest is futile, but in Lewisham, in south east London, we know that’s not true. In 2012 and 2013, a grass-roots people’s movement in Lewisham defeated plans by the government — and senior officials in the NHS — to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital to pay for the debts accumulated by a neighbouring NHS trust. If the plans had gone ahead, the 270,000 people of Lewisham would have had no A&E (Accident & Emergency) Department, and would have had to join 500,000 other people, from two other boroughs, served by one A&E many miles away on a remote heath in Woolwich. In addition, all frontline acute services would have been cut at Lewisham, and, as a result, 90 percent of the Lewisham’s mothers would not have been able to give birth in their home borough.
Although we won a significant victory in Lewisham, the zeal of the government — and of senior NHS managers — for increased privatisation, and for cuts that can only damage the provision of services to those in need continues, and, as with so many facets of the opportunistic “age of austerity” declared by the Tory-led coalition government, mass opposition is in short supply. What we need, at the very least, is regular opportunities to show the government, the banks and the corporations that we are implacably opposed to their corruption and cruelty, and yet we have had only two major protests in the last four years — one in March 2011 (the TUC-led “March for the Alternative“), and another (“A Future That Works“) in October 2012.
In January last year, the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign got 25,000 people out on the streets of Lewisham, providing hope and encouragement to campaigners across the country, and on Saturday, thousands of NHS supporters gathered in Red Lion Square in Holborn and marched to Trafalgar Square for a rally that was a culmination of a three-week, 300-mile march by around 30 mums (the “Darlo Mums”) and others from Darlington, who recreated the 1936 Jarrow March, as the People’s March for the NHS. Read the rest of this entry »
On August 16, a group of mums in Darlington, in County Durham, set out on a march to the Houses of Parliament, ending this Saturday, September 6, “to build support for the NHS and to join up with amazing NHS campaigners across the country,” as they note on their website.
Their march, the People’s March for the NHS, was inspired by the Jarrow March in 1936, when, in the Depression, 200 people marched from Jarrow, 30 miles north of Darlington, to London to demand action from the government.
The campaign to save the NHS from the lying, Tory-led coalition government, whose leader, David Cameron, promised before the 2010 election that there would be no more top-down reorganisations of the NHS, is one that I have been involved in since 2011, when the privatising Health and Social Care Bill was first unveiled. I fought against the passage of the bill in the early months of 2012, and in October 2012 joined the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, which, over the following year, secured unprecedented grass-roots support (see here and here) against government and NHS management plans to disembowel Lewisham Hospital to pay for the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust. That campaign was ultimately successful, but privatisation continues to invade the NHS, as intended by the government, numerous hospitals face uncertain futures, and further legislation — like the hospital closure clause (Clause 119) of the 2013 Care Bill — have had to be resisted (again, with success). Read the rest of this entry »
Over eight years ago, in March 2006, I began researching and writing about the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there since the prison opened in January 2002. Initially, I spent 14 months researching and writing my book The Guantánamo Files, based, largely, on 8,000 pages of documents publicly released by the Pentagon in the spring of 2006, and, since May 2007, I have continued to write about the men held there, on an almost daily basis, as an independent investigative journalist — for 20 months under President Bush, and, shockingly, for what is now five and a half years under President Obama.
My mission, as it has been since my research first revealed the scale of the injustice at Guantánamo, continues to revolve around four main aims — to humanize the prisoners by telling their stories; to expose the many lies told about them to supposedly justify their detention; to push for the prison’s closure and the absolute repudiation of indefinite detention without charge or trial as US policy; and to call for those who initiated, implemented and supported indefinite detention and torture to be held accountable for their actions.
As I highlight every three months through my quarterly fundraising appeals, I have undertaken the lion’s share of this work as a reader-supported journalist and activist, so if you can support my work please click on the “Donate” button above to donate via PayPal. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week there was some rare good news about the NHS, which I’m posting belatedly because I was too busy last week, and also because I want to make sure that my approval is on record. I’m also posting it because, let’s face it, those of us who care about social justice have few victories to cheer about.
The victory in question was the government’s acceptance of an amendment to Clause 119 of the Care BIll — generally known as the “hospital closure clause” — which is designed to prevent neighbouring hospitals to those facing grave financial difficulties from having their services cut without local consultation.
The circumstances in which this would have occurred involved hospitals close to those subjected to the appointment of a special administrator because of severe financial problems — under the Unsustainable Providers Regime that was first launched in south east London in October 2012. In that case, the Trust Special Administrator, Matthew Kershaw, proposed savagely cutting services at Lewisham Hospital to help pay off the debts of a neighbouring, but otherwise unrelated trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, which had hospitals in the boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley. Read the rest of this entry »
POSTSCRIPT Feb. 26: I have just found out that Clause 118 of the Care Bill, discussed in this article, which is intended to allow the government to close any hospital they wish without detailed consultation, has had its numbering changed, and is now Clause 119. Read it here, and please sign the 38 Degrees petition initiated by Louise Irvine, the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. Please also sign and share the new 38 Degrees petition, “Cameron and Clegg: Protect Our Hospitals,” which has secured nearly 150,000 signatures in just two days.
Please, if you care about the future of the NHS, and if you’re British, write to your MP now and ask them to vote against Clause 118 in the Care Bill, which will be voted on early next month, and, if you’re in London, please consider attending a protest outside Parliament this Thursday, February 27 (details below).
Readers will hopefully be aware that, in October 2012, residents of the London Borough of Lewisham launched a major campaign to save Lewisham Hospital from being severely downgraded to pay for the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust, the South London Healthcare Trust (in the neighbouring boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley) under legislation known as the Unsustainable Provider Regime.
25,000 of Lewisham’s 270,000 residents took to the streets a little over a year ago, and although heath secretary Jeremy Hunt approved the proposals put forward by Matthew Kershaw, the NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the financial problems of the SLHT, the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign and Lewisham Council launched two judicial reviews, which, in July, met with success, when a judge ruled that Jeremy Hunt had acted unlawfully in approving the plans. Hunt appealed, but lost again in October. Read the rest of this entry »
Just before Christmas I took part in a show about the threat to the NHS from the Tory-led coalition government (and from senior managers within the NHS) on the excellent community radio station Radio Free Brighton, which is based in Brighton, funnily enough, and was set up by my good friend Jackie Chase. I spoke about the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, and its success, over the last 15 months, in preventing the government’s plans to severely downgrade services at the hospital as part of proposals for dealing with the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust, although it is impossible to talk about Lewisham in isolation, as the threats we faced in south east London are echoed around the country.
The half-hour show, which is available here, was presented by Davy Jones, the Green Party Parliamentary Candidate for Kemptown, and the other guest was Madeleine Dickens of Brighton Save the NHS (part of the “Keep Our NHS Public” network of campaigning groups). Jackie also provided some insights from her time as a nurse. What brought us all together was not only our concern for the NHS, which faces an unprecedented threat (from the Tories who are privatising it at an alarming rate, and from its own senior managers, who have talked themselves into believing that savage cuts to services can somehow improve clinical outcomes), but also our mutual interest in the role played in these developments by Matthew Kershaw.
When the plans for Lewisham were sprung upon us last October, just before Halloween, the suitably ghoulish figure elevated to the role of chief executioner (or the NHS Special Administrator, as he was known) was Matthew Kershaw, and when his work at Lewisham was done (and his proposals approved by Jeremy Hunt, only to be overturned in summer by a high court judge following two judicial reviews), Kershaw moved to Brighton, where he was appointed the Chief Executive of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals (BSUH), which runs the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton and the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath.
Unsurprisingly, given his experience of taking a hatchet to services, one of Kershaw’s first acts as the new CEO last spring was to announce £30 million of cuts, prompting widespread alarm in Brighton and Haywards Heath. Read the rest of this entry »
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