NHS cover

The NHS is under threat like never before, writes Steve Sweeney, well known scourge of the NHS privateers and CPB member.

The NHS is under threat like never before. While it has faced challenges since its inception in 1948, with numerous reconfigurations and reorganisations, the Tory Health and Social Care Act has laid the foundations for its complete dismantling and paves the way for the wholescale privatisation or even closure of NHS services.

The axing of Lansley and his replacement with Jeremy Hunt, author of a book calling for the ‘de-nationalisation’ of the NHS gives an indication of the direction of travel. While Shadow Chancellor, Oliver Letwin famously stated that ‘the NHS would no longer exist 5 years into a Tory government’. While the timescale may be arguable, one thing that there is no doubt about is that the NHS is not safe in Tory hands.

Section 75 was rushed through the House of Lords in a sneak attack meaning procurement processes must be tendered to include the private sector. In a similar fashion, S119, the so-called ‘Hospital Closure Clause’ was voted through in parliament despite widespread opposition. The clause, an amendment to the Care Bill, was inserted by Jeremy Hunt in the wake of his defeat over plans to close A&E and Maternity services at Lewisham Hospital where a judge found that he had acted ‘outside of his powers’. This new legislation effectively gives the Secretary of State the ability to close hospitals or privatise services without consultation and against the wishes of the CCG.

The NHS should be the key battleground for the 2015 General Election, but it is up to us the set the agenda. Failure to do so will see the Murdoch press place immigration at the centre of the debate, with the three main parties pandering to UKIP to see who can be the ‘toughest’.

The election of a majority Tory government would see the end of the NHS as we know it. Current policy would see further fragmentation and privatisation. The NHS would be downgraded to merely a logo or label used on services provided by organisations like Capita, Serco or Virgin Care Ltd., seeking to make profits from a rapidly expanding health market. It cannot be more clear. 2015 is a battle for the soul of the NHS and Labour must be bold.

NHS and anti-cuts campaigning tends to be centred around local issues/hospitals. As described in the CP Pamphlet ‘Health for the People’ There have been notable successes, including Lewisham Hospital – a united community campaign built from grassroots level, drawing in support from all areas including Millwall Football Club.

The threat to the NHS is not merely localised or even confined to the UK. The etsablishment of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), an EU/US free trade agreement, would create a market in public services, including the NHS. Through Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), corporations would be able to challenge policy decisions taken by democratically elected governments. Those very governments would not have the same power to challenge the corporations. This exposes the undemocratic nature of an unelected bosses club which threatens the survival of the NHS.

The Jarrow March organised by ‘999 Call for the NHS’ is important in raising the profile of NHS campaigning. In replicating the march of 1936, campaigners will join in along the route – in Bedford for example the march will be joined by campaigners from ‘Stop the NHS Sell-Off in Cambridgeshire’ and also highlight the CCG review that could see downgrading of local hospitals and possible privatisation of services in the Bedfordshire locaility. Now receiving support from GMB and Unite unions this will help in drawing together various campaigns all with the same goal.

There is an alternative vision for the NHS. One based on co-operation and solidarity instead of a costly market and competition, pitting Trusts and Hospitals against each other . A vision that means the repeal of the Health and Social Care Act, the ending and reversal of costly PFI deals and for direct government funding.

It is up to us the present the alternative and fight for our NHS. A Conference called by the People’s Assembly can be the catalyst for this – against austerity and for the NHS. As the Declaration states, ‘We can defend education, health and welfare provision funded from general taxation and available to us all, or we can surrender the gains that have improved the lives of millions of people for more than 50 years’ . Now is the time for those words to become deeds.

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