Their NHS "revolution" and the one we urgently need

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
25 January 2011

The 550-page NHS Bill published last week by the government was duly heralded as a "revolution" by Con-Dem ministers. The official line is that it is all about "patient choice", "improving care through competition" and, of course, "cutting red tape". Haven't we heard it all before?

This is meant to be done by scrapping the Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) which organise the provision of things like X-rays, scans, blood tests and minor surgery. Groups of GPs will have to organise themselves into so-called "corsortia" and, in addition to their jobs, they will have to search for and book investigations and treatments for their patients - something that most GPs adamantly oppose.

Front-door privatisation?

Predictably, of course, the aim of the exercise is, yet again, to increase the share of the NHS cake that is being channelled to profiteers.

Since the inception of the NHS, the pharmaceutical industry has been allowed to make huge profits. But all the private sharks wanted in on the deal. The past decades have witnessed a long process of "backdoor" privatisation, whereby, bit by bit, private companies have been invited to help themselves from NHS funds.

This process started under the Tories in the 1980s, with the contracting out of hospital ancillary jobs. Then, the Tories invented a so-called NHS "health market" - as if the provision of health care, on which the health of a whole population depends, and which is a matter of life and death for many, could be treated in the same way as the provision of, say, haircuts or manicure sessions!

When Labour came back into office, instead of scrapping this "health market" it had so often exposed, Blair and Brown refined and expanded it, far beyond the Tories' wildest dreams.

The result was the explosion of a whole industry, which parasitises the NHS budget - whether in the form of private clinics providing simple, but very profitable treatments and tests; companies which, through PFI schemes, have taken over the building and running of hospital facilities; or subcontracting firms, providing ancillary services to the NHS.

The Con-Dem "revolution" is merely about increasing this parasitism. For instance, since GPs can scarcely manage to look after their patients as it is, the scrapping of PCTs will mean a double bonanza for the private sector: GPs will be invited to subcontract their new administrative burden to private companies which, guess what, will be more likely than not to "buy" treatment from their mates in private healthcare companies.

Likewise, the present cap on the revenue that NHS hospitals can make out of private patients, is to be removed - meaning that it will be much easier for private healthcare companies to parasitise NHS facilities and resources when these patients need complex treatments which they cannot provide themselves.

An attack against all workers

To make their "revolution" more palatable, the Con-Dems have widely floated the news that 24,000 NHS "manager" jobs would be cut by scrapping PCTs - the aim being to build on the justified unpopularity of the fat wages that some NHS high-fliers manage to award themselves.

Except that this is a lie: the overwhelming majority of the 24,000 NHS "managers" in question, are just low-paid white collar workers, employed by PCTs to do the paperwork!

The government's agenda is clear: hasn't it just threatened NHS workers with 35,000 compulsory redundancies if they did not accept another pay freeze for this year (for the 3rd year running!)? Meanwhile, hospitals which are running short of cash, have already announced hundreds of job cuts.

But, while NHS workers and patients face paying a heavy price for the Con-Dem "revolution", how many more billions of the NHS budget will land in the coffers of the big City firms, as a result?

We know all too well the damage caused by the private sharks in public services. Their parasitism is unbearable enough in areas like transport, gas or electricity, where it has resulted in huge price increases and dangerous under-investment.

But when it comes to vital services, such as the NHS, postal services, water, the day-to-day maintenance of urban infrastructure, etc.., which are vital for society and the health of the population, profiteering should be banned - period!

So, yes, we need our own "revolution" - one that would start by excluding the parasitism of the private sharks from all vital functions in society, and by placing these under the control of the working class itself!