Rachael Maskell writes: “So far this year, hardworking and dedicated NHS staff have seen continued attacks on their pay and conditions, as well as the continuing creation of a health service dominated by private healthcare companies. The NHS, as the British public has known it since its foundation in July 1948, is being transformed before their very eyes.
The 1.3 million NHS staff have seen their pay being eroded by up to 15% since 2009, by the down-banding of staff grades and loss of on-call payments. Some of our members have seen their incomes plummet by a third. The screw was turned even more viciously last week when Jeremy Hunt vetoed the recommendation for all staff to receive a very modest 1% pay rise. Some 600,000 staff are, therefore, being denied a cost of living rise on 1 April.
Behind this continued depression of wages of nurses, health visitors, paramedics and speech and language therapists is the deep-rooted intention of the coalition to privatise large swathes of the NHS as quickly as possible. The Tory party has strong links with private healthcare companies, which are set to garner rich pickings. Since last April, 70% of the contracts awarded for NHS work have gone to the private sector.
The recent acquiescence of supine parliamentarians to the passing of clause 119 (formerly clause 118) of the care bill – which will allow the health secretary to close hospitals in England without proper consultation within 40 days – is another weapon to soften up the NHS for hiving off to the profiteers.
What is so insidious about Hunt’s actions is that they are being conducted under the false premise that profit-hungry healthcare companies will provide a better service. But private companies are not necessarily the panacea to an organisation’s problems. They are good at driving down costs to satisfy their shareholders, but big question marks hang over their ability to improve services for patients and to uphold professional standards. A drive on costs is normally reflected in falling quality.
People want to work for public services, particularly the NHS, because they wish to make a contribution to the public good. They don’t join up to become a wealth-creating digit for private companies. But the government has adopted a culture of secrecy, as well as legal and parliamentary ruses, to hide from the public the extent that the NHS is being put up for sale to private healthcare companies.
The NHS is rapidly being turned from a fully integrated, complex, interwoven organisation that has evolved over 65 years to optimise high-quality clinical care to metamorphise into a pick-and-mix counter, where any qualified provider can scoop up their preferences and not have to worry about what others are doing – or what is left behind. The rush to privatise renal units, intensive therapy units and A&Es has not happened because these services cost a lot of money and will therefore reap no financial reward for the profiteers. However, hip and knee replacements are frequently conducted in the private sector.
Taking out low-risk, high-volume, interventions which injected money into the NHS – due to the pricing of the tariff – is exposing NHS hospitals to the risk of financial failure. This is because high risk, expensive services that are hard to price are left for the NHS to pick up. The system is collapsing because this model will force the NHS into financial failure, resulting in the administrator being brought in.
The rhetoric of Hunt’s predecessor, Andrew Lansley’s “no decision about me without me” has come full circle to the current model that Hunt is supporting, where he can politically determine the fate of local health services.
It won’t be in the Tory heartlands where we see hospital closures, but Labour areas where there are the greatest areas of health inequality and deprivation and which will witness local services being moved beyond reach.
Health inequality across the UK has been deeply worrying for decades, but the health reforms will not address this; they will just alienate local people and deny access to services. This is further compounded by the funding regime introduced last spring where the longer you live, the more money you attract to fund healthcare – in the industrial north you will never get the top-ups to enable your GPs to invest in services to help you live longer.
With parliament now not allowed to scrutinise the NHS, Hunt and City bosses hold all the power. Cutting out the voice of patients and highly skilled clinicians, the NHS is just another industry for the leeches to enjoy. If you join up the dots, you can see how ministers are creating a world that gives private healthcare companies a distinctive advantage when they bid for NHS work. This must be fought tooth and nail.” (http://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/2014/mar/20/nhs-for-sale-private-healthcare-companies?CMP=twt_gu)