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Year 2005 No. 69, May 17, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Government Demonises NHS Hospitals over MRSA to Carry Forward the Privatisation Agenda

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Government Demonises NHS Hospitals over MRSA to Carry Forward the Privatisation Agenda

India's Suicide Epidemic Is Blamed on the British

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Government Demonises NHS Hospitals over MRSA to Carry Forward the Privatisation Agenda

By Workers’ Weekly Health Group

Patricia Hewitt announced in her first speech as Health Secretary that she would carry forward the pace of “reform” of her predecessors.  She immediately announced that £3 billion will be earmarked for private sector treatment and admitted that this drive to divert taxpayers’ money away from the NHS could lead to hospitals closing.  In another interview she said also that hospitals will be held “criminally liable” if patients catch superbugs such as MRSA.  

            So, within a week of New Labour being returned to power with a reduced majority in which Tony Blair was said to be “listening” to the electorate, the pace of involving big business in making profits from health care at the expense of the NHS is to the stepped up, whilst NHS hospitals are to be increasingly demonised as the culprits in the MRSA and other superbug scandals.  According to the trade union Unison, drug resistant infections such as MRSA cause the death of at least 5,000 people each year and cost the NHS an estimated £1 billion each year. 

            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.   For example, in 1986, there were the equivalent of 67,000 full-time domestics working in the NHS. Now there are around 36,000 employed both directly and indirectly almost half the number of 20 years ago. But increased bed turnover and more complex patient care need more rather than fewer staff.  Is it a wonder that hospitals are increasingly struggling to carry out the basic cleanliness that was identified as one of the most important aspects of patient care in the 19th century? 

            Also, what is ignored by all of the big parties when discussing the problem of MRSA and superbugs is that the problem was created by the drive of the big drug monopolies to sell more and more powerful antibiotics when this was known to result in bacteria evolving to become increasingly resistant to treatment. Dubious science is also involved, for example, in the drive to promote the MMR vaccine and deny its links with autism and other conditions, as opposed to what used to be the common practice of encouraging children to catch mumps so that the body develops resistance to the disease in later life when it is much more dangerous.

            On the question of the resistance which bacteria acquire to antibiotics, it is interesting to note that scientific research carried out in the Soviet Union from 1923 and after the Second World War, which has been known to western science for many years, had shown that the war against bacteria was not something that could be won by humans developing more and more powerful antibiotics. In the Soviet Union infections were treated not only with antibiotics, but with viruses that attack and destroy bacteria.   According to this important development in science, if the problem is classic Darwinian adaptation, then solution might lie in the very same process. Thus they turned their attention to bacteriophages, which have evolved over eons to destroy bacteria and will evolve to combat new strains of bacteria as they emerge. This approach to fighting infection was aimed at letting nature do the lab work usually carried out at tremendous expense, and with high failure rates, by the pharmaceutical industry. In contrast to engineered drugs, phages are as numerous and varied as the bacteria they attack. What's more, they evolve along with their prey, matching bacterial adaptation step by step.   That drug companies ignored this approach has proved very costly in human life and resources.

            Today, instead of trying to demonise the NHS hospitals and making them “criminally responsible” as Patricia Hewitt is proposing, only a society that puts science and people in the first place can sort out these problems that have been created.   Patricia Hewitt should not sign any contracts with the private sector but take steps to bring back all private health care under public control and launch a public investigation into their activities and those of the drug monopolies with a view to reclaiming the massive profits for the health service.

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India's Suicide Epidemic Is Blamed on the British

By Cahal Milmo, 16 May 2005

Trade reforms backed and funded by the British government have caused an agricultural crisis in India which has sparked an epidemic of suicide among impoverished farmers, a leading charity claims today.

            More than 4,000 farmers have killed themselves in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh since a programme of free-market measures was implemented by a "hardline liberalising regime" with the help of a £1.65m grant from the Department for International Development (DfID).

            A study for Christian Aid claims that the dramatic increase in the suicide rate, which saw 2,115 farmers take their lives last year compared with 588 in 2003, is directly linked to British support for policies joining aid to economic liberalisation in developing economies.

            Research found that farmers in Andhra Pradesh who had traditionally grown their own food were persuaded between 1999 and 2004 to swap to cash crops and incurred large debts which they were unable to pay due to wildly fluctuating global prices.

            The result has been a catalogue of family tragedies among thousands of peasant farmers who were forced to approach unscrupulous moneylenders to fund fertilisers, pesticides and water boreholes that produce little or no financial return.

            Among the methods of suicide chosen by victims has been to drink the pesticide they hoped would transform their economic prospects.

            Daleep Mukarji, director of Christian Aid, said: "It is a scandal that the British Government has backed policies and pumped British taxpayers' money into schemes which have contributed to poor Indian farmers killing themselves.

            "The report shows in stark detail the damage that is done to poor people when the dogma of so-called 'free' trade is pursued in the name of poverty relief."

            The study commended DfID, which has spent £248m on aid to Andhra Pradesh since 2000, for its work on improving health and education in the region.

            But it found that the ministry was also bankrolling the closure, restructuring and privatisation of 43 state-run enterprises, including agencies supporting farmers.

            The programme, run by the ultra-liberal state government of Andhar Pradesh until it was voted out of office last year, was advised by consultants from the London-based Adam Smith International – a commercial enterprise affiliated to the right-wing free-market think tank, the Adam Smith Institute.

            The consultants were working for the Implementation Secretariat – a body set up by the state government with the help of a £1.65m grant from DfID.

            Professor Jayati Ghosh, an academic in Delhi who chaired a commission on farmers' welfare charged with investigating the results of free market reforms, said it was clear that there was direct link between the suicides and the liberalisation measures.

            He said: "The crisis of suicides is very clearly a result of public policy. And this has been guided by and substantially determined by agencies like DfID."

            The Christian Aid study found that the reform programme, which was also backed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, aimed to turn much of farming in India into "agribusiness".

            Among the measures taken by the Implementation Secretariat in Andhra Pradesh between 1998 and last year was the closure of four state agencies, including one which sold farmers machinery and tools at subsidised rates. Another body which provided a reliable source of seed to poor farmers was reduced to a "dormant" state.

            In the decade from 1991, the area of farmland in India used to grow traditional grains such as rice declined by 18 per cent. In the same period, land dedicated to the production of cotton and sugar cane increased by 25 per cent and 10 per cent respectively. At the same time, subsidies for fertilisers were slashed and cheaper loans from banks were reduced, resulting in farmers going to private lenders charging interest rates of at least 36 per cent to fund new crops that rapidly became worthless on the global market because of over-production and cheap imports.

            A survey of 40 farmers who committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh found that each on average owed 106,000 rupees (£1,300) – roughly five to 10 times their normal income.

            The Christian Aid report said: "These are not deaths from just one area or from just one type of farming. This is suicide on a scale that is surely unique in modern times. The immediate cause of these deaths is debt. This debt was brought on by a number of factors, all of which, except for the weather, can be ascribed to liberalisation."

            Both Adam Smith International, which said it had had no role in drawing up the liberalisation policy, and DfID denied that there was a direct link between the high levels of suicide and the market reforms.

            The government announced earlier this year that there should no longer be a formal link between aid and economic liberalisation.

            A DfID spokesman said: "Our support for economic reform in Andhra Pradesh, including the privatisation of state-owned enterprises, has helped safeguard the livelihoods of around 2 million people. Without reform, the state government would have continued to spend hundreds of millions of pounds subsidising loss-making enterprises."

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