These days, wherever one lives in the country, people are fighting to safeguard their health services.
The NHS in recent times has been transformed by successive governments into a battleground of their making. It is a battleground because, over recent years there was the creation of a “purchaser provider market” by the last Labour government which shattered the last vestiges of a collective approach and the coherence of a publicly provided NHS in England, Wales and northern Ireland (it was not introduced in Scotland by the Scottish government). It also dealt a huge blow to co-operation among health services turning them into competing “not for profit” and for profit health businesses. Then the Coalition government threw their grenade into the NHS with the Health and Social Care Act 2012, and the cut backs to all health budgets have been accelerated along with the drive for privatisation which is now wrecking health services at a rapid rate. Today, it can be seen as ending comprehensive health services at District General Hospitals and reducing availability of already scarce mental health and other community services. In this situation people in every community are fighting with every weapon at their disposal the ongoing systematic cut backs. So, that hardly a day goes by when people are not taking some kind of action, or activity, in defence of the NHS.
How concerned people are can be seen by the unprecedented opposition, which generally goes unreported by the monopoly media. For example, in September people were outraged that attempts are being made at the new West Cumberland Hospital at Whitehaven, due to be opened in December, to transfer some health procedures and services 40 miles away. This led topeople confronting the Trust in the Whitehaven’s Rugby League ground on September 30. Over the summer the Support Stafford Hospital Campaign continued to organise a camp and festivals in their area following the two massive demonstrations last year where 40,000 and then 50,000 people demonstrated against the downgrading of Stafford Hospital services. It has been a similar picture in the rest of country. For example, the people of South, North, East and West London have ongoing campaigns against the increasing destruction of the NHS in London. Whilst Lewisham won an historic battle with the government against the closure of vital health services at their hospital last year with the backing of tens of thousands on the streets of Lewisham, the hospital has been merged with another Trust and community and other services are still under attack. Other campaigns to safeguard health services and hospitals are ongoing at Bexley, Brent, Bromley, Camden, Charing Cross, Ealing, Enfield, Greenwich, Hackney, Hammersmith, Haringey, Ilford, Kingston, Lambeth, St Helier and Sutton, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, and Whittington.
These campaigns came together this summer when a number of women from Darlington, known as the “Darlo Mums”, and others marched from Jarrow to London in August to save the NHS and following the route of the march by unemployed shipyard workers in 1936. Their march was in response to the government’s passing of the Health and Social Care Act, Section 75 and Clause 119, which have led to the removal of the Secretary of
State’s duty to providenational health services, and the rapid dismantling, privatisation and destruction of the NHS. The marchers were met by thousands, in Leeds, Nottingham and everywhere they went. On September 6, they were met by 20,000 people in London representing campaigns to save their health services across London and other parts of the country.
Today, the whole question coming to the fore is the need to take foreward this movement to safeguard the future of the NHS, while the ruling circles are gearing up to continue further in the same direction following the General Election next year. As can be seen by their recent statements the Labour Party is trying to seize the initiative in the movement to safeguard the NHS, to say leave it to them and vote Labour. But the Labour Party proposes no change in the direction to this austerity led agenda and their statements confirm that they will continue with the destructive market in health and the privatisation of health care will not be stopped. There is also the big lie that continues to be advanced by all the big parties that whilst they agree with austerity NHS budgets are “protected”, when in reality billions of pounds are slashed from struggling NHS hospitals and community services.
Today, this movement to safeguard the future of the NHS must continue to strive to seize the initiative. Battles are continuing to be fought to save services. Health campaigners are putting forward their own programmes and demands. For example, leading NHS campaigners have come together to produce an NHS Reinstatement Bill to stop and reverse NHS privatisation and are engaging with the campaigns on this draft bill in the run up to the general election next year. The NHA Party is campaigning to take the issues of safeguarding the NHS into the general election with its own candidates, and so on.
Our view is that the movement has to go all out to deal a blow to this austerity agenda in the run up to election and back candidates that take a genuine stand against austerity and to safeguard the future of the NHS. But what are the blocks to progress for the movement? The movement should not limit itself to what was the best from the past, or limit the discussion to what Britain “can afford” on the NHS out of taxation. Where the save the NHS campaigns have forced governments, health authorities, commissioners, providers and so on, to “consult” or even on some occasions to back down and to give some decisions to people locally, this discussion is always limited to what the government or the local health bodies say is “affordable”. And today, with “austerity”, what they say was “affordable” last year they now say is not “affordable” this year and that there have to be cut backs and this is the only “choice” that is offered. This is the whole irrational approach to the NHS and mind-set of the “austerity” consensus in Westminster that they try to impose on health managers, doctors and nurses. It is the basis of the ongoing stripping out of core services like Accident Emergency, Maternity and surgical procedures from District General Hospitals, closing GP services and mental health services, and forcing people to travel large distances and wait longer for vital health care. It is this “austerity” and “affordable” agenda, made in Westminster, that has to be smashed by the movement to safeguard the future of the NHS so as to take the movement forward in the fight for the alternative.
In taking up the alternative it has to be recognised in the movement that this issue of “affordability” of health care is completely fraudulent. It presents the NHS as a “cost” and burden to the economy which has to be curtailed and contained. For the ruling circles this capital centred view is a given, which is that the economy gives first claim to the rich and it is their interests which are addressed first. The economy is not run for all those that live and work it and that they make the decisions. Taxation is based on the same precept that the working people pay, and the rich have first claim on the treasury and extract huge sums in usury (national debt interest!) to fund wars and other schemes that are in their interest. To say that the NHS is a “cost” or a “burden” cannot be justified even in their terms, because as so many people point out that they don’t think twice about the billions they spend on nuclear weapons, on war and so on.
But the reality is that far from being a “cost” and burden the NHS is a fundamental contributor of wealth, providing added value from the labour of the health workers to a
socialised economy of production and services. The NHS is overwhelmingly a human resourced organisation. It cannot be otherwise in order to provide health care – but this is presented as a negative thing by the capital centric outlook that sees labour as a “cost” and not the producer of wealth. Health workers produce added value to society on top of what they take home in wages. For the health services the NHS workers provide their added value to this socialised economy and to all in society. Yet, the capitalist monopolies do not contribute the amount that they gain from the transferred value of health workers to the industries and services that keep their employees healthy and producing their own added value to society. These monopolies expropriate all this added value for their own interests and do not contribute it to the socialised economy and its health and other services. Any new bill on health care should make these monopolies contribute to the National Health Service directly in proportion to the added value that is transferred to them by health workers. In other words, health workers are not a “cost” or “burden” but on the contrary add value to society for which the monopolies do not pay. The movement must advance this claim for the proper funding of the public purse for health care and fight just as hard on this as the movement fights against the monopolies having direct control of services for profit with privatisation, PFI, etc.
Health care is a right and it is one of the most important parts of building a modern economy and a modern society. This has yet to be accomplished. Establishing a public health care system in 1948 without establishing it as a right for all in the running of society, and making the people sovereign in the running of society and of their health care system has always left the NHS at the mercy of the private owners of the means of production and governments that represent them. It has always meant that people have had to fight to save their NHS services at every juncture in the 66-year history of the NHS.
The marginalisation of the people from decision-making and the claim that their public services are not affordable and have to be privatised have to be rejected as not a way to run a modern society. The dictate of the monopolies and parties that represent them must be more and more challenged and stopped and their whole direction against the public good blocked. The movement must assert that it is the right of all to health care and that this right must be guaranteed by society. Most importantly the working class movement, including the movement of health workers must take up this fight to empower the people to make the decisions in society. This will safeguard the future of the right to health care.
– See more at: http://www.rcpbml.org.uk/wwie-14/ww14-31.htm#fourth