For the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the NHS, this Saturday, a national march is planned in London under the slogan: "Celebrate and Demonstrate - Our NHS is 70". And yes, it will be worth joining this march!
But, despite its slogan, this won't be a "celebration" march - because there's nothing to "celebrate". Decades of cost-cutting and backdoor privatisation by every government have now brought the NHS to its knees. On the contrary, this march will be an opportunity for us, workers, to express our anger against the policies and politicians who are responsible for this disaster. And this is an opportunity well worth using!
"Their" NHS was never "ours"
Lest we forget, what official propaganda today calls "Our NHS" was never "ours". After World War II, like in most rich countries, the British state undertook to fund a public health system. But it was never designed to serve the interests of the working class majority.
After years of wartime deprivation which had caused workers' health to seriously deteriorate, the primary objective of the NHS was to provide the bosses with a healthy workforce at the lowest possible cost. And this could only be achieved thanks to the economies of scale made possible by a state-run, national system.
But if the NHS helped to improve the health of the working class, it was also designed to nurse private profits. By failing to bring the whole health industry into public ownership, the then Labour government chose to provide British capital with a huge bounty: in particular, its generosity towards the profit sharks allowed the pharmaceutical industry to become one of Britain's most profitable businesses today, by parasitising the NHS budget!
Thereafter, far from being used to meet the needs of all, the NHS was always organised so as to ration healthcare, to minimise costs. So much for the "good old days", we are meant to "celebrate" today.
But then came the 1970s economic crisis. To make up for falling profits, British capital demanded an increase in its share of public funds. Governments were told to bend over backwards to provide companies with new sources of profits carved out of the public sector: the era of subcontracting and outsourcing began, including in the NHS, under the Labour government of James Callaghan, in fact.
Ever since then, like all other public services, the NHS has been increasingly milked by private sharks. To the point where, today, 25% of its budget is siphoned off by private shareholders. So, no, the NHS is not - and never was - "ours"!
Stopping the rot
After decades of parasitic private profiteering on the NHS, its body has become severely emaciated.
State investment in the NHS has been so low that Britain has 3 times fewer scanners than the average rich country - thereby creating a huge vacuum which private providers have been able to fill, at a huge cost to the NHS. Hospitals are crippled by the exorbitant long-term cost of public-private “partnership” contracts and have to choose between closing down wards or postponing essential repairs.
The raw statistics are damning: Britain ranks in the bottom six among 21 countries in terms of its number of GPs, hospital doctors, nurses and hospital beds per inhabitant. And the consequences are even more damning: in 2015, there were 30% more avoidable deaths in NHS hospitals than in France - with no visible improvement since!
The collapse of Carillion, formerly one of the largest NHS subcontractors, and the financial difficulties of Capita (still its largest), may have slowed the subcontracting fever. But never fear, they've invented a new trick: allowing NHS trusts to set up private subsidiaries (known as SubCo's) which can make commercial profits using NHS facilities. To top it all, a new Health Service Safety Investigations Bill will, if passed, allow the results of investigations over serious NHS failings to be kept secret!
Above all, overstretched NHS staff are sharing with patients the real cost of the system's collapse. While NHS workers have been promised a miserly 6.5% rise over 3 years, after 7 years of below-inflation increases, private SubCo's are allowed to hire staff on the cheap! A multi-tier system is spreading all over the NHS to allow a larger share of its budget to fill private coffers.
What is the lesson of all this? That there can be no real public health - or public services for that matter - as long as private profit cripples society. And that it is the cause of this disease - capitalism itself - which needs to be dealt with!