New Internationalist

The NHS is dead – and we should all be ashamed

I recently turned 64. Nothing remarkable in that. Except, as I enter the twilight of my years, I can’t believe what is happening to the country I live in. Britain is witnessing the cynical dismantling of the welfare state. Everything is being privatized by the Tory/LibDem ‘Coalition’ government.

The model, clearly, is the US, and Cameron, Clegg and their ilk are presiding over vicious cuts in public services the like of which we have never seen before – certainly not on this scale. Oh yes, the country is in debt (due mainly to taxpayers’ bailing out the banks to the tune of trillions of pounds) but, make no mistake, this is ideological. Even Thatcher and her cohorts could only dream of such bloodletting. And the jewel in the welfare state crown, the National Health Service (NHS) will soon be put to the sword.

A Bill, effectively privatizing it, will undoubtedly pass through Parliament in the near future. And if anyone has any doubts as to what medical care will look like in Britain in 5 or 10 years’ time, take a look across the Atlantic to where everyone has to have medical insurance (itself often a sham with terrifying stories of people left with massive debts to pay off because of insurance companies’ ‘loopholes’ and infamous ‘small print’ anomalies) and where an estimated 50 million people simply can’t afford it at all and are left to fend for themselves (see Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary film Sicko).

And as all this happens, what is the great British public doing about it? Very little, it seems. There is some opposition, and certainly within the NHS itself (a group of doctors, for example, plans to put up candidates to stand against coalition MPs at the next general election, in protest at the planned changes to the NHS). There are some support groups and pockets of resistance. But where is the collective outrage, where are the mass demonstrations? The people of Britain are sleepwalking into a nightmare. They seem to have little or no idea as to what awaits them. This is the end of the welfare state. And do people really understand what that means? Well, believe me, they are about to find out.

We should be ashamed. All of us, for allowing this to happen. Ashamed that we have let down the courageous people who created and fought for the welfare state and ashamed that our children’s future now hangs precariously in the balance. And I include myself in that. Oh, I’ve been to a few protest rallies, I’ve sent money to the campaigns, but it’s not enough, is it? And here I am writing a pathetic little blog that within an hour or so will vanish into cyberspace. And what good does any of that do anyway, when the majority anesthetize themselves with their iPods, ‘The X Factor’ or the latest, ridiculous shenanigans of celebrities?

Don’t ever say we weren’t warned.

NHS Support Federation:

NHS Support Federation’s online petition:

Keep Our NHS Public Campaign:

Save the NHS online petition:

Sicko the documentary:

Photo: Duncan Hull under a CC Licence

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  1. #1 Chris Curran 20 Mar 12

    I agree with absolutely everything you've written. I have nothing to comment on, I just wanted you to know you weren't alone in thinking these things.

  2. #2 Rakehell_Obi 20 Mar 12

    Obama signed the NDAA on 31st December 2011. This privatisation of the NHS looks to be ushered in alongside the St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square.

    As a few hundred people marched on March 17th, thousands were getting drunk celebrating a dead saint.

    My local shop was telling me of the wastage in the NHS and does not believe the bill will change the treatments her husband is getting for cancer.

    She was more concerned with the East European immigrants getting NHS coverage and benefit scroungers...heavens wept!

    You are correct that there is no collective outrage. The Overclass of the 1% have succeeded in getting the middle-class to hate the underclass.

  3. #3 Nicholas 20 Mar 12

    ’. But where is the collective outrage, where are the mass demonstrations? ’

    That is precisely the purpose of the following meeting tomorrow in London: To organise and coordinate all the disparate campaigns and concerned people into one unstoppable force.

    Please share this, and come along. If you can't make it tomorrow, than be in touch to help consolidate this into as it has to be.

  4. #4 jane lorelie 20 Mar 12

    I like so many feel sickened disgusted and fearful for the future of Britain healthcare That the politicians have no guts are incapable of standing up to pressure put on them by the REAL decision makers . The big boys with the money who call the shots. Like the school boys they are being bullied into dismantling what is the envy of the world #NHS . How long before elderly sick people are abandoned and propped up against the doors of hospitals in the middle of the night by relatives because they have no health insurance , even though they've paid into nation insurance all of their lives. Young people with most of their teeth missing because they cannot afford a dentist. My daughter-in-law has an abcess under her tooth now and has not gone to the dentist because she can afford it. And yes she works as does my son. America show our politicians the way and they follow like sheep. Were still looking for the W .M .Ds and so many young British lives have been lost because the politicians and that oh so special relationship did what was asked of them. I feel that I've been misold. Paying all my life for something that I won't be getting . How the government can take it upon themselves to sell of something that isn't theirs I think quite frankly is illegal and needs to be challenged in court.

  5. #5 Nathan 20 Mar 12

    not to defend *myself*, but I don't agree that a lack of mass public outrage is to blame - and its a negative gesture to imply that the 'masses' are in effect causing the dismantling of the NHS. The situation is that there simply isn't a mechanism of democracy to stop this bill - the government are without mandate, without popular support, in the case of the Risk document against law, but there is literally no framework for opposing the bill within the current system.

    Would adding another march to this list have changed anything?

    Really this is an ideological movement by a corporate-controlled system which cancels out a democratic process.

    It is really upsetting, but I don't think that turning blame on the masses who oppose the bill is a useful gesture to make.

  6. #6 Diane Dalziel 20 Mar 12

    I agree with you to a degree most people do not seem aware or are too lethargic and disinterested to do anything until as you say it begins to bite and the penny drops. However I won't be defeatist and hope that, like with the Poll Tax a Bill that was also passed, people will finally get up a shout and protest and be the 'good folk' whom Aneurin Bevan spoke about all those years ago. I pray that will be the case or the 99% will be in for a lot of pain in all senses of the word!

  7. #7 Alan Hughes 20 Mar 12

    Thank you all for your comments and support. And thank you to Nicholas for the link.

    May I reply to Nathan?

    I'm not saying the 'masses' are to blame for this debacle or that it is they who are 'in effect causing the dismantling of the NHS'. Of course they are not. And you are right to say the situation is that there simply isn't a mechanism of democracy to stop this bill, the government are without mandate, without popular support...

    It is precisely because of this that we (the 'masses') need to campaign, outside Parliament, and oppose the destruction of the welfare state and the NHS in particular. It is time to get up off our collective arses and fight back. Before it's too late. After all, if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.

    Or do we just sit back, let Cameron and Clegg get away with murder, and accept there is nothing we can do? I have a 16 year old daughter. I'm prepared to fight, to do all I can to make sure she, and every other kid on the planet, has a decent future.

    Some years ago Michael Foot said: We are not here in this world to find elegant solutions, pregnant with initiative, or to serve the ways and modes of profitable progress. No, we are here to provide for all those who are weaker and hungrier, more battered and crippled than ourselves. That is our only certain good and great purpose on earth, and if you ask me about those insoluble economic problems that may arise if the top is deprived of their initiative, I would answer, to hell with them. The top is greedy and mean and will always find a way to take care of themselves. They always do.

    That will do for me.

  8. #8 sue jones 20 Mar 12

    I am not ashamed, I fought very hard and enlisted support whereever I could find it , I emailed the entire house of Lords, I protested, signed petitions. The truth is worse than bystander apathy. The truth is democracy is dead. I KNOW people have been fighting this Bill, many are doctors too. A huge group of us campaigned to get the Risk register released too. We were ignored by an autocratic government.

    On March 17th, a group of peaceful protesters in support of the NHS were kettled by police toting machine guns.There was a total media black out regarding these events, although footage has been distributed online , and the media have been inundated with complaints as a result. This is an absolutely autocratic Government. THAT is the real issue here.

  9. #9 Warren 20 Mar 12

    You can all keep your shame to yourselves.

    I feel nothing but pride; we're moving further away from a socialist agenda and allowing greater competition in the medical industry.

  10. #10 Pelirrojo 20 Mar 12

    To Warren, who commented that he was proud that he could look forward to more competition in the health system:

    You absolute idiot.

    ’Competition’ does not mean that you will have some kind of fantastic 'consumer choice', like Coke or Pepsi, Ford or Chrysler.

    It means that health insurance companies will be able to compete to sign up members of the public.

    You are not going to be the consumer in this bargain; you are going to be the product.

    The more profits you generate for the insurers, the more attractive a product you will be.

    You have no idea what you and everyone else are about to go through. I come from a country where everyone has to pay for medical care, and I can tell you it is absolutely horrible. It is the worst thing you can imagine. Nobody benefits, except the shareholders in the insurance companies.

    I am ashamed and embarrassed for your blind ignorance.

  11. #11 Dawn 20 Mar 12

    Patients will be given more choice over how they are treated, yes pay to go private or wait longer on the NHS. Your hospital will be able to treat more private people for more money but it will mean a longer wait for people who cannot afford to pay

  12. #12 Dawn 20 Mar 12

    I don't want these changes and have signed every petition I have found.
    Patients will be given more choice over how they are treated, yes pay to go private or wait longer on the NHS. Your hospital will be able to treat more private people for more money but it will mean a longer wait for people who cannot afford to pay.

  13. #13 dons 20 Mar 12

    how can a buffoon, a school bully, a bare faced liar be running our country by bare faced liar i refer to him supposedly jogging to work and been seen getting out of a car in jogging suit, saying the nhs would be safe under tory government, etc etc etc.
    i think he even begins to believe the lies he spouts, an evil man trying to get a name like thatcher but at least thatcher had the balls to stand by her convictions this man if u can call him a man is a wolf IN a wolfs clothing,
    he is making the rich richer and the poor poorer, where will it end? go back to the workhouses? slave labour? why not hes not that far off it!!!
    despicable, and the lib dems omg what a spineless set of brown noses they are, talk about doing anything to have their five mins of fame!! well i wont be surprised to see clegg get his marching orders its gone back to the two davids from spitting image cameron running the show and clegg as his puppet, his yes sir no sir 3 bags full sir lapdog!!!

  14. #14 LadyGloom 21 Mar 12

    I believe there is outrage, but no one has the strength to express it anymore. We have given up. They have won. They don't listen - our next chance for ’democracy’ is still years away and they can make plenty of money in that time. Short of mass armed uprising, we won't even register in the ivory towers, and even then the media blackout is such that it would probably be dismissed as a dozen troublemakers breaking windows.

    I am disabled. They are stripping away my benefits and they are stripping away my care. I am terrified. It feels like the beginning of genocide by stealth. There have been suicides and there will be many more. And the boys in charge simply refuse to believe that they are the ones killing us.

  15. #15 Roger 21 Mar 12

    Alan - I'm from the same generation as you and feel exactly the same. I could have written what you wrote. The one thing that keeps me slightly optimistic is the young people who are involved in campaigns and fighting to preserve what generations fought to create. Many of them are aware that, whether it's the Coalition or Labour with its PFI scams,the value of public services is now only measured in how much you can sell them for.

  16. #16 dan 21 Mar 12

    100% agree with you i also have nothing much to add, i also wanted you to know you are not alone, there is nobody to stop them, people have lost faith, this country seriously needs a hero!!!.

  17. #17 Phil Vanes 21 Mar 12

    How very true
    And this is just a small part of the on-going move towards privatising everything.
    In my experience, when Private companies run Public Services, the needs of the Shareholder outweigh the needs of the public.
    If all the Care Homes in England are privitised and the Councils pay them to look after the penniless and vulnerable, what is to stop the Care Home owners in a particular town all getting together and doubling the rents that they charge. Where would the oldies go? The Council would have to pay, meaning that ultimately we all pay more through our Council Tax.

  18. #18 alan day 21 Mar 12

    i tried myself along with other members of 38 degrees and all to no avail. and yes you are right we so badly needed mass protest like that never before wittnessed in britain. so so sad and at the same time angry as hell with cameron who has no shame at all

  19. #19 Kathy DeHarte 21 Mar 12

    I live in the dear old U.S. and have bipolar. Getting help is no easy thing.I'm in the system as they say. Made to feel ashamed about a disorder I have no control of. Stigma comes from not having private ins. and from having an illness not visible to the eye. Your words give me strength. Never believe they fall on deaf ears.

  20. #20 annalisa 23 Mar 12

    i hate people saying eastern european coming to rip off benefits and geting NHS covers.
    i am of eastern european origin and in fact me and all my friends and surrounding have been working hard to survive here snd never get any benefits or help and what you are talking is a afro-carribian and saudi arabian community here who we all work for and pay our taxes to cover their nhs costs.
    when we all start prioritisesimple things like getting a paid job, do somithing to get yourself from this situation, the system will change, but apparently some of them feeling pretty comfortable at where they are.

  21. #21 melvyn edgar 23 Mar 12

    The NHS is dead thanks to this bloody gready torie lib dem goverment, all i hope is one day these same greedy MPs need the health care and they cant afford it.I feel very sory for us millions of ordinary peoplewho are going to loose this great NHS of OURS THE PEOPLE OF the once GREAT BRITAIN,which certainly is not great any more,I would like to think this the NHS of ours could still be saved but i fear that is just a dream now GOD HELP US ALL but not any one who voated this bunch into parliment.

  22. #22 Rob 25 Mar 12

    Thanks for writing this. I agree with you.

    Time for everybody to switch off their TV and wake up.

  23. #23 Rivenrod 28 Mar 12

    Very well said.

    The thing is though, it's apparently not ok to be mad as hell or to have the opinion these jumped up, snivelling little shits should be boiled in oil and fed to the nearest bio composter. It's not ok to wish them dead for creating policies and implementing laws which allow real people, citizens of this country, to be killed and maimed (NHS, care in the community, wars etc. etc.). They are responsible.

    Its not ok to believe the Scottish, Welsh and English cultures are worth nurturing. Its not ok that one, just one, of our young people feels the need to demonstrate on the streets of our towns and cities just to be heard. Its even less ok when its tens of thousands. Its not ok that a million people tell them straight we don’t want a war, then send our boys out to be killed anyway. They are responsible for the death of every single one of them.

    Its not ok for us to say the supposed success of the education system is based on the lowest of academic achievement. Neither must we complain when those less gifted and vulnerable are excluded from school, tagged by the system and hidden from view. Its not ok that any child should think themselves a failure because the “system” they force upon us is inadequate. The fact that there are tens of thousands and millions unemployed is nothing to do with them, because they say so. They are responsible.

    When they explain they inherited a mess, its not ok for us to ask why when they were in Parliament, the Opposition. If they were crap in Opposition (the voices of reason) what chance do we have now they are in power.

    It's not ok to want them stripped of everything they ’own’ and make them stand in line for whatever paltry hand out an official thinks they might be entitled to. It's not ok to voice an opinion with passion or conviction because, they tell us, we upset them and they have taken it upon themselves to stifle debate and honest reasoning because of it. Its not ok to be unemployed because its our fault we don't have jobs. Its not ok for the banks to fail or to be disabled or mentally impaired or to be PROUD to pay tax to care for those in need. But then its not ok for us to complain when those who are paid 20 times the national average wage pay less tax than a family on a breadline income. They are responsible.

    Its not ok to say nothing will change, because it will. Unless the citizens of this country, unless we are prepared to stand on our own feet and say No, its not ok! Things will change. Things will definitely change for the worse.

  24. #24 Jan Bailey 29 Mar 12

    I do feel that, if the NHS is killed of, then we will have a revolution. The people of this country will not take it lying down.

    There is nothing more likely to start an uprising than this

    We have swallowed lies, cheating, spin and downright criminality from our leaders and the heads of our finance institutions and industry leaders.


  25. #25 Alan 29 Mar 12

    Thank you Rivenrod for your message. It was much appreciated (and that goes to everyone who wrote in). The response to this blog has been amazing and has given me some hope for the future as clearly there is much anger out there at what's happening to the NHS (and the welfare state as a whole).
    The editor of the Lancet Magazine wrote recently:
    People will die thanks to the government’s decision to focus on competition rather than quality in healthcare.
    The stakes are that high.

  26. #26 Christine Higdon 01 Apr 12

    Well written and very interesting. Every little bit counts!

  27. #27 Alan 03 Apr 12

    A new protest group, called the Coalition of Resistance (, has been assembled. Here is what its President, Tony Benn says about it:

    The Coalition of Resistance (COR) emerged from an appeal I made in August 2010, for a broad movement against the ConDem government’s malicious attempts to dismantle the welfare state. we are seeking to develop and sustain an umbrella organisation to bring together the local and national campaigns to defend the education, NHS, pensions, housing and the Welfare State.

    We have seen many demonstrations, including three magnificent student demonstrations, culminating in a TUC march of half-a-million on 26 March 2011. We are also witnessing an unprecedented outbreak of occupations across the globe.

    A new phase began with the co-ordinated pensions strike by UCU, NUT, PCS and ATL on 30 June. With 3 million workers being balloted, we are now heading for the biggest nationally co-ordinated strike since the 1926 General Strike on 30 November. Whilst the formal dispute is over public sector pensions, it is clear that November 30th also represents a fundamental challenge to this relatively unstable ConDem Government.

    Our immediate task is to turn the 30 November Pension strike into a Festival of Resistance against cuts and privatisation and in defence of the Welfare State. Everyone can be involved in this, see

    We will need to be ready to sustain the fight beyond that date – for example to organise a common day of protest across Europe. To do this we need to consolidate the affiliations and increase funds for the Coalition of Resistance.

    Join now! Send a donation!

  28. #28 beanflik 06 Apr 12

    i totally agree, not only do we stand by and watch it happen, the bloody people voted these fat greedy selfish ’jokes’ in to parliment! did the country not lean the last time the torys were in power?! im scottish an we havent forgotton ms thatcher!all this talk about independance and so on, what the people easily/coveniently forget is that back in the late 70's we voted as a democracy overwhemingly FOR independance but ms thatcher breached our human rights, in order to exploit the revenue from nth sea gas an oil, and we all jus accepted it!! i agree totally we should all be ashamed!

  29. #29 Alan 08 May 12

    And so it goes on. How depressing is this? I've met so many people recently who have no idea as to what is going on with the NHS. And at the weekend, shopping for food, I encountered a young man who seeing my Keep the NHS Public badge wondered what it all meant? When I explained, about how we will all need insurance cover etc he replied: 'Oh, I'll be alright, I have a job, I'll be able to pay it.'
    The level of ignorance out there is nothing short of staggering. And in the meantime the NHS is being privatized, the insurance companies rubbing their hands with glee.
    I predict in a few years (maybe even less the way things are going) Panorama will be doing documentaries on horrors stories re millions not being able to afford health insurance etc etc. And knowing people as I do they will throw up their hands in horror and ask: 'What happened?'
    Makes you want to cry...

  30. #30 Paul in Seattle 08 May 12

    Hi Alan, nice post...

    As an ex-pat Brit whose first 30 years were spent in the UK, at least until the Thatcher revolution, I mourn any assault on the welfare state. For the past 27 years I've lived at different times in three regions of the US and know all too well the slippery slope the NHS may be facing.

    I do believe however that Britain will have to sink far further than the recent bill goes to reach the depths of misery the US healthcare 'system' finds itself in today.

    For starters the vast majority of NHS infrastructure - both the bricks and mortar and human assets - would have to pass into private ownership. A majority of this private ownership would be held by for-profit, investor-owned corporate entities. This private delivery system would allow the UK government to cut its funding of healthcare services by more than 95%, plus they would no longer regulate the cost side of the equation; a free for all would ensue.

    In the US, the healthcare delivery system is almost entirely private - and fee for service driven. The federal government funds Medicare (health insurance for seniors) to the tune of about 3% of total healthcare spending. The other 97% is funded mostly through private for-profit insurance companies paid for primarily by US employers, some individuals, and state-funded special needs programs.

    And yes, roughly 50 million Americans are uninsured, but the much greater problem is the much larger number of 'under-insured' - the folks whose healthcare costs are so high they exceed the lifetime maximum benefit of their insurance plan - after the insurance stops paying the providers come after the consumer for the balance - these are the medical bankruptcies you hear about over there. Oh, and one more thing: under the US model, the UK government would allow total healthcare costs to triple or quadruple from today's levels and and be content allowing a large chunk of this to flow into the pockets of the wealthiest 1% of the population - the folks who derive their obscene income not from modest employment but from dividends on their their private healthcare stocks.

    So I guess my message is this - while I don't think the NHS is in any danger of emulating the US example anytime soon, I would say the stakes are much, much higher than most Brits realize. So resist the slippery slope as vigorously as you can - once you start the slide, and it gathers momentum, it'll be hard to stop.

  31. #31 Alan 09 May 12

    Thanks for this Paul, a valuable and important contribution to this debate and much appreciated. You highlight well the terrible dangers we face as the NHS (and the welfare state as a whole) goes the way of privatisation, the way of the US model. But there is very little, if any, coverage in mainstream media of what's REALLY going on. Not a surprise of course, look who owns and controls most of the media. But it's what we are up against. And as ever we are left with the question. How do we get OUR message across? There's no doubt at times it feels like banging our heads against a brick wall. As you say, 'the stakes are much, much higher than most Brits realise. So resist the slippery slope as vigorously as you can - once you start the slide, and it gathers momentum, it'll be hard to stop'. Some us will continue to resist but I fear we are already on the slippery slope.

  32. #32 Mike Boulton 03 Mar 13

    Most people know nothing about the privateisation of the NHS. When I go out onto the streets with my ’Save teh NHS stall’ Most people ignore me. Why? Well they have read nothing of this in the pres, Nothing on TV. So why should they believe an old man standing beside the street?

    Various campaigning organisatiion have done well collecting signatures on petitions and so forth but only a minority are aware of them.

  33. #33 Billy 11 Apr 13

    As has been previously said I agree with all you've written. I can't believe the apathy there is. When this ragbag coalition has finished, their profit driven buddies in business will own everything including the NHS and we will be going to them with begging bowls pleading for help and left to die in squalor.

    Of course we now know when their time comes, they'll be put up in the Ritz. The outrage is, it was our parents, grandparents and great grandparents, but it will be handed over to them, or sold for a few pence (as happened with the rail network and our other public services.

    They, like the parasites that they are, will pick the flesh of the bones of the NHS, asset strip and cherry pick. Thatcher started the ball rolling, the Bullingdon Boys, with the help of the most treacherous party in history (the LibDems)will finish the job. We are being governed by a Plutocracy, which includes Neo Labour they are a party to it.

    All of them are cpoliticiansitians, the architects of building poverty into the infrastructure, driven by class, division and profit above all else. They are intent on rebuilding the class system, taking us back to the Dickensian era. While the majority stand of us are staidly idely by doing nothing to halt their onslaught...shame on us all is right!

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About the author

Alan Hughes a New Internationalist contributor

Alan Hughes was a graphic artist at New Internationalist. He retired in 2014. He is a life-long socialist and trade unionist and is currently involved in the Keep Our NHS Public Campaign. He is passionate about The Beatles and has supported Aston Villa FC for over 50 years. He lives in Oxford with his daughter.

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