OPINION: Softly Killing the NHS
By Laurie Stone
What exactly happens to our money that we pay to the government? We have a democratic system for electing our political representatives but no way of determining how our tax money is used. Take the National Health Service. More than 80% of us believe that health care should continue to be free at the point of need, paid by tax and National Insurance. But the NHS is being dismantled by our politicians and replaced with – according to Noam Chomsky – “a system that is by far the most costly, bureaucratic and ineffective in the developed world”. And, I believe, the most lucrative for corporate health care providers.
It is not politicians’ to dismantle. It is ours, we pay for it. Their rationale is that it was hugely expensive and only efficient if significantly privatised. But let’s look at some significant costs – medication for example. We are told that drug research is extraordinarily expensive. Hang on a minute, who pays for the research? ‘Pills and Profit’ by Global Justice Now, reveals that big drug companies use ‘taxpayers’ money to fund their research then sell the results to the NHS at premium prices. Effectively we pay for our medication twice.
According to Morten Thyasen’s ‘The Great British Drug Rip-off’, in 2016 pharmaceuticals were the most profitable world industry. Corporate profiteering of public health research puts extreme pressure on the NHS budget, at times preventing patients from accessing the treatments they need.
But it isn’t just Big Pharma raking in unimaginable profits. There are huge predator companies out there, lobbying MPs and slavering over potential pickings. Virgin Care, part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin empire, now
holds at least 400 NHS contracts – reportedly worth £2 billion since 2014 – including at our own Conquest Hospital. They range from scanning equipment, prison health care, school immunisation and dementia care. This is aggressive expansion into the public sector – the first time a ‘for profit’ organisation will run and deliver adults’ social care programmes, supposed to be managed by the Council. Sara Gorton, Unison’s Head of Health, argues taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be wasted on “these dangerous experiments in privatisation”.
Lancashire County Council was recently taken to court by two NHS Trusts for attempting to outsource a £100million contract to Virgin. The High Court said it would “cause considerable costs and disruption to the NHS and patients”. A local MP criticized the deal as “galloping privatisation”.
SOURCE: NHS Support federation / BMA
But we are just getting started. There’s Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) which Sir Howard Davies, then chairman of Royal Bank of Scotland, called “a fraud on the people”. Legal fees to comply with just one clause of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, are estimated to cost the NHS £77m a year. Pharmaceuticals, unfavourable legislation, legal services, big corporations, PFI horrors can only gain their heady profits by selling us the story that our NHS is inefficient and uneconomical – and selling us that story in steps that feed the daily drip of media bile against public healthcare.
In his excellent book “How to Dismantle the NHS in 10 Easy Steps” (recently reviewed in HIP) Youssef El Gingihy says: “The public is being softened up in preparation for the expansion of public health insurance by a relentless anti-NHS smear campaign” without so much as a murmur of protest by our parliamentary representatives at this “all-out assault on the NHS”.
Currently government ministers support this rampant profiteering, but think what predatory American companies might be awaiting at the end of the Brexit debacle, making us offers we can’t refuse. Just what proportion of the £20.5 billion funding increase to the NHS, promised by Theresa May, will be creamed off into these hidden lucrative franchises as opposed to addressing our health needs?
Aneurin Bevan said “We will have a Health Service as long as there is a will”. Tony Benn predicted revolution in the streets if the NHS was privatised. Do we have the will? Are we going to revolt? Are we going to demand it back?
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