A packed meeting organised by Bridgwater and West Somerset Labour Party heard Tower Hamlets GP Dr Youssef El Gingihy give a history of the planned and actual destruction of the British National Health Service through privatisation and outsourcing. The meeting abounded with examples of services stretched, staff under pressure and people wanting to fightback.
Dr Youssef was introduced by Bridgwater Branch Chair Glen Burrows as someone who would tell us what was really going on in the NHS and he didn’t disappoint.
History of NHS Privatisation
The history of privatisation in the NHS started with the Thatcher government back in the 1980s when they introduced ‘outsourcing’. This meant the catering, cleaning, laundry functions and the introduction of an ‘internal market’ into the NHS. By the 1990s, when the Tories had been in power for some 11 years already and looked set to stay there, this included dividing the NHS up into Trusts.
This strategy was in fact all part of the Ridley Plan – a Tory agenda to dismantle the welfare state set up by Labour in the 1940s and included privatisation of the big public utilities such as transport, water,gas and electricity. However, it was noted that the consumers were mainly in favour of nationalisation as the best way of delivering public services and so the tactic was to ‘do it by stealth’.
The ‘Trusts’ that were set up allowed the internal market to develop by bringing market forces in to play which allowed the Private Sector a foothold. The excuse was that this would cost less and make the service more efficient. The result of course was the opposite with a 10% escalation of costs. In fact privatisation was to make things more expensive, introduce extra layers of bureaucracy with all the tendering, auditting, billing and contracts, and lead to a fragmentation of the system. The aim appeared to be a move towards a US model. But the US model is not only the most expensive system in the world, the resulting health care system has seen lower life expectancy, lower mortality, and a 60% level of personal bankruptcies caused by health care deficits.
The New Labour government of Tony Blair didn’t help matters when in 2000 they encouraged a limited market expansion in the NHS with their Public Private Partnership. The PFI schemes set up (Private Finance Initiatives) allowed 100 or so hospitals to be built with private money but at a long term payback of some 80billion pounds whereas the cost could have been just 11 billion under the old system of government taxing and funding.
The key agents promoting all this were the Banks. HSBC, Barclays and so on were instrumental in lobbying for privatisation and this was evidenced when the Chair of RBS (bailed out to the tune of 45billion) admitted that PFI was a fraud on the British people.
Tory Privatisation Today
The next phase of privatisation came during the Tory-Libdem coalition government when in 2013 they introduced the Health and Social Care act which was their flagship reform policy. The ever helpful BBC described it as ‘adding to the purchasing power of GPs’, yet the system was divided by Tory Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, a student of arch-Tory privateer Norman Tebbit. This phase of privatisation started by axing the Governments responsibility to provide compulsory health cover and devolved this to Quangos. This then allowed the opening up of NHS contracts to further outsourcing on a massive scale. This doubled during 2010-2016 from about 4% to 8% and was the lead in to the Foundation trust Hospitals which were allowed to take up to 49% income from the private sector.
As the Lib Dems faded into obscurity after helping the Tories back into power, we saw the Teresa May solely Conservative government again take up the cudgels against the NHS and accelerated privatisation plans with the introduction of the STPs (Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships) which essentially identified the NHS as un-sustainable and in need of transforming. This was accompanied by cuts and closures and mergers. £40billion was the target of Tory austerity cuts to the NHS and the reduction of some 7500 GP surgeries to just 1500. The replacement option would be bigger networks, the closure or merger of smaller surgeries and a more remote and unobtainable service.
The People get Angry
The packed audience drawn from all across Somerset spoke up about local examples -Weston Hospital A&E, Watchet and Williton, and the sell off of NHS land through the Naylor Report.
Cllr Dave Loveridge (Bridgwater Eastover) accused the drug companies of treating the NHS like a cash cow “You always see people crowd funding or doing fun runs just to pay for treatment”.
Bridgwater Labour member Mick Duggan said “I’m despondent about the working class. they shouldn’t be accepting this yet they do. It might even take a campaign of civil disobedience to get people to sit up and fight back.”
Trades Unionist Dave Chapple said “Today is Workers Memorial day. Their slogan is remember the dead but fight for the living. 30 years ago 500 people marched through Bridgwater to try to save the Mary Stanley Nursing Home. We managed to save a maternity unit in the town even though we couldn’t save the building. It’s local campaigns that matter and that’s the way to build support for a national campaign.”
Gary Tucker, Labour Party Bridgwater Branch secretary who had organised the meeting , said “The Labour Party has 600,000 members and is the largest party in Europe. Gone are the days when we had top down instructions and vested interests, now our power is at grass roots and we need your help. Join the party and help us launch these campaigns, or don’t join but come along anyway. “
Glen Burrows, summed up, “Dr El Gingihy has taken us on a journey through a conspiracy to destroy the NHS. As the British public discovers this we’re realising that we have to fight back. The Labour Party we have today with a decent moral leadership is part of the solution and it’s clear that any campaign must be in conjunction with workers and Trades Union councils.
The meeting resolved to build a campaign locally to fight back against NHS cuts and to link up nationally with the many campaigns across the country.
May 5th Event in Wells
Glen concluded “On Saturday 5th May the Wells CLP is organising a May Day rally and everybody could unite in that small Tory Somerset City to show their opposition. In Bridgwater a bus is being organised by Cllr Brian Smedley (firstname.lastname@example.org) or people can make their own way there.”