The avoidable NHS emergency: how they are turning crisis into catastrophe

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10 January 2018

Responding to a question over the predictable winter crisis in the NHS, Theresa May told Andrew Marr on Sunday that “of course nothing's perfect”!
    Being “not perfect” meant the cancelling of 50,000 non-emergency procedures throughout January.  It meant declaring a “black alert” in hospitals.  A&E departments were packed to bursting point.  Corridors were blocked with patients on trolleys, waiting up to 12 hours to be seen.  It happened from Dover to Land’s End.  Hospitals were simply “unable to deliver comprehensive care”.
    Yet May is unperturbed.  She claims that “the NHS is delivering for more people, it is treating more people and more people are being seen within the four hours every day than has been a few years ago.”
    Which cloud is she living on?  We all know from experience how bad things are.  Things were dreadful even before this latest winter crisis or the flu epidemic.  And even before Brexit fears lost the NHS thousands of EU staff.
    As for May’s assertion that the NHS is “treating more patients”, isn’t it obvious that the NHS has to grow, along with the needs of the population - in other words it must, of necessity, treat many more people every year?  And that it therefore always needs yet more funding allocated to it?
    But it has been in a state of starvation of funds for decades!  What’s more, “efficiencies”, have been imposed by every successive chancellor!  And why?  Because these efficiencies, i.e., cuts in public provision are designed to open the health sector to private companies.  These parasites are “licenced” to suck profits out of the public purse!  This is a “friends and family” policy which is aimed purely at pleasing the governments’ capitalist pals.

A model for profit

Take the fact that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has just been given the portfolio of Social Care, in addition to his responsibility for the NHS.
    In another world, this could have been a good thing.  Social care should never have been excluded from the principle of “universal health care, free at the point of use” provision - the motto of the NHS when it was launched 70 years ago, in July 1948.
    Indeed, the virtual privatisation of all social care is directly responsible for the so-called “bed-blocking” which makes the beds’ shortage in the hospitals so much worse.  It has led to shockingly inadequate social care and should have been abandoned long ago because it is a failure in every sense.  The growing number of insolvencies among companies involved proves it.
    But never fear.  By the enlargement of his remit, Hunt is now licenced to merge health and social care in England into single administrative bodies - which could well resolve the current profitability problem of the private social care sector.  Eight so-called Accountable Health Organisations (ACOs), modelled on those in the USA, will get contracts to manage and provide packages of care themselves or to sub-contract them to others, under the auspices of local authorities.  They would thus have access to the vastly larger NHS budget!  And never mind the fact that with profit as their motive, these new bodies could never deliver the “joined up” comprehensive care which Hunt “promises”.
    Those campaigning against Hunt's "reform", including Stephen Hawking, the prominent astro-physicist, are accusing him of paving the way for a private health insurance-based system.  And of course, what other options would there be, if the NHS is no longer able to provide the universal care, free of charge, which it was initially designed to do?  Only a minority among the population would be able to afford such insurance, but never mind...

Lethal plunder

We are told that private firms were awarded £3.1bn worth of contracts in 2016-17 to provide NHS services.  Richard Branson's Virgin Care scooped £1bn, the largest amount any “for-profit” firm has so far secured.  In other words, the profiteering out of health is growing exponentially while the NHS itself is shrinking and starved of funds.
    It’s already a shambles.  A notorious company like Capita was given a 7-year (renewable) £70m/year contract to provide GP support services, in order to cut some £30m from the budget previously so allocated.  The contract includes administering crucial cervical cancer screening, which has already slumped to covering just 70% of women at risk.  Capita is currently being scrutinised by the National Audit Office over “ongoing issues” with so-called service delivery.  But these “issues” include errors like not letting women know they might have cancer!
    This is not just a question of private companies profiteering out of health.  It is a question of lethal plunder of the NHS, threatening our lives.  It can and must be stopped.