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Year 2005 No. 51, April 19, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

New Labour and the NHS: Jeopardising the Future of the Health Service

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New Labour and the NHS: Jeopardising the Future of the Health Service

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New Labour and the NHS: Jeopardising the Future of the Health Service

One of the key issues during the current election campaign has been that of who can best safeguard the NHS. New Labour’s recent election broadcast attempted to stress the alleged differences between the two main parties. Its aim was to present the New Labour government as the greatest defender of the NHS, while presenting the Conservative Party as the party of privatisation and charges for hospital operations. It is a view that also dominated the recent speech of the Health Secretary, John Reid, delivered at Ruskin House in Croydon on Saturday, April 16. On that occasion, Reid made every effort to contrast   “two very different visions of the country’s future” and stressed that it is New Labour that is “committed to the founding value of the NHS by providing equal access to health care for all, free at the point of need.”

            In fact, as even John Reid, was forced to recognise, New Labour is now widely seen as the champion of privatisation in the NHS, through the PFI, foundation hospitals, “bulk-buying NHS operations from the private sector” and by other means. What New Labour continually stresses in its manifesto and elsewhere are the notions of “choice” and “personalised healthcare” as well as the need for “fundamentally reforming the NHS” and “using new providers where they add capacity or promote innovation”. It is under the guise of such slogans that New Labour justifies the unjustifiable, the making of maximum profits from the provision of health care by big business and the private health companies.

            The turning of health care into a commodity is continually presented as “consumer choice” or even as “empowering patients”. There is an attempt to create the illusion that this is what the people of Britain have chosen for the future of the NHS, that the decision has been taken by them and in their interests, rather than by and for the big monopolies and financial institutions. At the same time, it is alleged that the electorate is confronted with a choice between one party that defends a “free to all” NHS and the other that wants a health system based on ability to pay.

            In fact not only have the “consumers” had no say as to what kind of NHS should be provided, neither have health workers and professionals, nor is the direction of the NHS and management of patient care governed by scientific and objective considerations. Despite extravagant government claims about record investment in the NHS since 1997 and thousands of extra nurses and doctors, hospitals are clearly under-staffed and under-funded, while health workers are forced to work longer hours. On the other hand, the big monopolies that have invested in the NHS, such as the civil engineering contractor Carillion, are declaring record profits. Carillion, which invested £13 million in Darent Valley Hospital under a PFI scheme, expect to make around £90 million in profit throughout the life of the scheme.

            The big parties may differ on how profit should be made from social programmes, such as health care, but are united in the view that the making of profit should be the main consideration. On the basis of experience therefore, there can be no illusions about the plans of New Labour for the NHS, nor about such slogans as “personalised healthcare” and “empowering patients”.  Rather what must be demanded and fought for is a modern society that recognises that everyone has a right to healthcare at the highest level that society can provide.

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