Faith and fight in the battle to save the NHS
The 50,000 people who took to the street of Manchester at the weekend to protest against the Coalition government’s determination to dismember and sell off the world’s flagship public health service showed faith and fight in abundance.
Whether wearing ‘I love the NHS’ t-shirts, waving ‘No cuts: hands off the NHS’ placards or chanting ‘Tory scum’, the message couldn’t have been clearer to Conservative delegates gathering for their annual conference in the city.
Police said the peaceful march and rally was the biggest the city had ever seen – larger even than its mainly trade union organizers had hoped for. Protesters outnumbered Tory delegates by three to one.
It needed to be big. The butchering of the health service so that the parts deemed profitable can be sold off to private companies is continuing apace under the Conservative-LibDem coalition government.
Many national health hospitals are already managed by private companies such as Virgin Care, Serco, United Health and Circle Health. Billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Care alone runs over 279 NHS services including Deer Park Medical Centre in Witney – prime minister David Cameron’s constituency.
This rampant selling off of public health was not part of any election manifesto and has no mandate whatsoever. ‘Not only did the Tories not win the election, they did not have the guts to put their privatization of the NHS to the people,’ said journalist, activist and People’s Assembly supporter, Owen Jones. But the sell-off has proceeded in such a furtive way, that most people have been caught out by it.
Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, cautioned against despair. ‘No more cynicism, no more pessimism. We’ve got to believe that we can stop them and stay united. Because together we will win,’ she said.
And there have been some inspiring victories. Government plans to close down emergency services at a hospital in Lewisham, London, were scuppered by a well-organized campaign of local people and health workers who took legal action against the government and won earlier this year. That campaign is now helping others.
Marchers came from all over the country – including Northern Ireland – to join the sea of protesters, banners and placards. A coffin bearing the words ‘NHS – RIP’ was borne to the lobby area of the Conservative party conference and left there by activists from the National Health Action party, which hopes to field as many as 50 candidates in the next election.
Apart from the Greens, most parliamentary parties have failed dismally to defend the NHS from creeping privatization. The former Labour government, through its policies, played a major role in facilitating privatization.
But at Sunday’s rally, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham rejected his party’s previous position and pledged to reverse the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 if Labour came to power in 2015. The fate of Burnham – and his pledge – will be watched with interest.
Medical company lobbying has been intense in recent years. Some 25 per cent of current members of parliament have a declared interest in companies associated with the private health sector.
Meanwhile the mainstream media carries stories that suggest that the national health system is a state of total disarray and needs privatizing – even though an international 2012 survey of citizens in 14 high-income countries found that the British citizens surveyed (92 per cent) had the highest level of confidence that their system could deliver effective treatment.
The private health model that the government appears to be pursuing is the one currently enjoyed by US citizens. In the US, avoidable mortality rates are 40 per cent higher than the European average and the per capita cost of health is the highest in the world.
Where does all the money go? The five US health insurance companies that reported $12.2 billion profit in 2009 might provide a clue. ‘Going to America to seek advice on how to run a health service is like going to the mafia and asking for advice on crime prevention,’ as Andy Burnham puts it.
In Britain too, the money trail has a tale to tell. According to the Keep Our NHS Public Campaign, the company Circle Health has given the Conservative party £1.4 million in donations. In return it has been given a £1.2 billion deal to run a hospital for 10 years – paid for by the British taxpayer.
Find out more about how the NHS is being sold off to private companies:
The Green Benches
We own it
And what to do about it:
Keep Our NHS Public
National health Action Party
NHS Support Federation