Save our National Health Service 'from private-sector vultures'

Scanty mainstream media coverage of the People’s March for the National Health Service since marchers set out from Jarrow to London on August 16 cannot obscure public support for their campaign.

Wherever they have stopped to rally, to leaflet and to talk to people, the justice of their cause has shone through.

Each morning as they have left another town, they have been joined by trade unionists, National Health Service (NHS) campaigners and ordinary members of the public to whom our health service means everything.

Tory and Liberal Democrat politicians claim that they are not privatising the NHS and that it will remain free at the point of use.

But they are engaged in a top-down reorganisation of the NHS in England - precisely what they promised pre-general election not to do - that imposes marketisation throughout the system.

The NHS internal market, which Labour abolished in 1997 and then reintroduced, is now the order of the day. 

Hospital trusts are encouraged to compete against each other and ordered to make “efficiency savings” - conservative newspeak for spending cuts.

Private healthcare facilities are encouraged to take over aspects of treatment guaranteed to turn a quick profit, starving NHS hospitals of income and encouraging right-wing politicians and media to point the finger and charge public-sector incompetence.

Massive reorganisation of GP provision will mean huge profits for private companies and a dearth of surgeries in poorer areas of the country.

This galloping disaster did not occur by accident. It wasn’t the result of a political brainstorm when Tory and Liberal Democrat leaders got their heads together to plot their coalition in 2010.

Undermining our NHS, bleeding it dry and allowing private-sector vultures to gorge on its still-living carcass have formed the game plan of powerful companies, many US-based, that have always seen the NHS as a threat to their ambitions.

For them the idea of any area of human activity that cannot be reduced to the profit nexus is anathema.

The private-health sector has bought its way into parliamentary politics, financing conferences, flattering politicians and putting them on their payroll.

The US spends more than any other country on healthcare and yet tens of millions of its citizens are excluded from insurance coverage and reliant on an underfunded and flimsy safety net.

Cuba spends a fraction of its northern neighbour’s outgoings, but its investment is concentrated on an efficient preventative system and unstinting investment in training professionals and researching new medications, both for Cubans and millions of people in poor countries.

Its priority of people before profits emanates from a similar approach that gave rise to our NHS.

Defeating the co-ordinated assault against our health service, which Tory former minister Nigel Lawson once ruefully called “the closest thing the English have to a religion,” must be a priority for the labour movement.

The march initiated by the self-styled Darlomums has awakened passionate support wherever it has gone.

It must be followed through and not just by a simplistic call to vote Labour. Too many new Labour MPs have also had their palms greased by the private health mafia.

* This story first appeared on Morning Star