Posts Tagged ‘Keep our NHS public’

Selling Off The NHS

Thursday, December 23rd, 2021

Two news items in recent days (neither given any great prominence in the media) show clearly how the Tories are selling off the NHS.

Though it was the Financial Times which reported why Rishi Sunak failed to attend a roundtable discussion with the UK hospitality sector. He was in California and the UK meeting was said by Treasury insiders to have clashed with his scheduled call with “US healthcare bosses.” Like me you probably don’t read the FT, but you are unlikely to have heard much about this from the BBC.

The second recent news is that Virgin Healthcare, a company that has been awarded contracts worth well over £2 billion for providing parts of our NHS services was this month sold to the private equity group Twenty20 Capital.

Virgin Care runs 400 NHS and local authority services including GP surgeries and Physiotherapy, generally concentrating on simple services which leaves more difficult and expensive work to be carried out by the NHS. It has a structure including Virgin Group Holdings based in the British Virgin Islands which sets up companies with large amounts of debt it uses to legally avoid paying UK tax – though the owners the Branson family have donated £70,000 to the Tory party.

You can watch a Labour Party video in which Jeremy Corbyn, then the Labour Leader, holds up a 451 page uncensored report and the considerably slimmer heavily redacted version released by Boris Johnson’s government. The unedited version confirms that the US demanded that the NHS is firmly on the table in the trade talks. “These uncensored documents leave Boris Johnson’s denials in absolute tatters… We’ve now got evidence that under Boris Johnson the NHS is on the table and will be up for sale.”

On Friday 23rd December 2016, I photographed ‘Howls of protest for death of the NHS‘, a protest at Downing St on the day that contracts were signed across the country to implement the government’s ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plans’ which effectively means the NHS can be handed over to private companies without any public engagement or consultation, ending a public service whose vision which has long been the envy of the world, signing the NHS over for private profit.

Every 15 minutes the speeches were interrupted for a long and loud ‘howl of protest’ by those taking part. These were timed to coincide with three social media ‘Thunderclaps’ across Facebook, Twitter & Tumblr by several hundreds of people mainly unable to be at the rally.

Speakers at the rally included Paula Peters of DPAC, Ealing Councillor Aysha Raza, trainee nurse Anthony Johnson of the Bursary or Bust campaign, a trainee mental health nurse, a patient and campaigner Gina and retired paediatrician and co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public Tony O’Sullivan.

At the end of the rally a small group of those present led by several DPAC campaigners, were harassed by police and threatened with arrest as they marched on the road to hold a final howl outside Parliament, with another short speech by Paula Peters.

Though the NHS has been deliberately weakened and made more available for private companies to run for profit by successive governments we still do have an NHS which is largely free at the point of need. But half of NHS beds have been lost since Thatcher began the cuts and privatisation and over 40% of services in UK healthcare are now provided by private companies and many of those who are now running the government have made clear in speeches, pamphlets and books that they favour an insurance backed scheme based on the US model.

The US model is expensive and flawed. Two thirds of personal bankruptcy in the USA is because people are unable to pay for the cost of healthcare either because they cannot afford the insurance or often because their insurance will not cover the treatment they require.

The Health and Care Bill 2021 continues the threats to the future of the NHS and gives much greater powers to the government to direct the NHS and will undoubtedly lead to greater penetration of the service by private providers, including the major US healthcare companies that Chancellor Sunak was making plans with in California while neglecting his duties in the UK.

More from 23rd December 2016: Howls of protest for death of the NHS


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Save St Helier Hospital – 7 July 2018

Wednesday, July 7th, 2021

The battle by local campaigners against the closure of acute facilities at Epsom and St Helier Hospitals in south London has been hard fought and illustrates many of the problems faced by the NHS as the government has called for huge savings from hospital trusts, many made paupers by PFI repayments.

The situation continues to develop after the march which I photographed on Saturday 7th July 2018, and in July 2020 plans were approved to build a new smaller Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Sutton which will bring together six acute services, A&E, critical care, acute medicine, emergency surgery, inpatient paediatrics and maternity services.

The trust say in the documentation for the first phase of public consultation which closed on 30th June 2021 that “85% of current services will stay at Epsom Hospital and St Helier Hospital. There will be urgent treatment centres open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at both of these hospitals.”

But health service unions and campaigners are worried by the proposals, which they say will strip acute services including two fully functioning A&E departments. The proposed urgent treatment centres will not have the capacity to treat life threatening illness. They say the downgrading of the two major hospitals will endanger the lives of people living in the area.

The new unit is one of 40 across the country which have been announced several times as a part of the governments increased investment in the NHS. Many see this and other similar schemes as being designed to increase privatisation and make involvement in the health service more attractive to healthcare companies.

July 7th was a sweltering hot day in London, and the walk from a park in the centre of Sutton to the St Helier Open Space in front of the hospital went through Sutton High St, fairly crowded with shoppers and then along hot, dusty streets with few people around. Walking was tiring, and taking photographs even more so. It was a difficult event to photograph, where I found relatively little to work with. But I was pleased to be there, supporting the campaign to keep the hospitals open and serving the community, part of a National Health Service that was celebrating 70 years of being brought into existence by a Labour Government.

It took a huge and deterimined fight by Nye Bevan to get the National Health Service Act passed, with Tories denouncing it as bringing National Socialism to the country and opposing it in parliament at every opportunity. But on 5th July 1948 we got the NHS, although almost ever since the Conservative party when in power has been looking for and finding ways to convert it from a universal public health care system to a service run for private profit.

NHS at 70 – Save St Helier Hospital

Save Our NHS

Thursday, March 4th, 2021

The past year has made all of us appreciate both what a great national asset our National Health Service is and also – unless we are blinkered Tories – to realise how much it has been run down as a deliberate Conservative policy ever since the Tories came into power in 2010. Though of course its problems also come from decisions taken by earlier governments, and in particular the disastrous PFI contracts taken out under New Labour which involve huge and continuing debt repayments by parts of the NHS.

Even the Tories have come to realise that the NHS reorganisation under Andrew Lansley’s 2012 Health and Social Care Act were a mistake, although the fine print of their 2021 White Paper makes clear that they are still – as in 2017 when I photographed this ‘Save Our NHS’ march – pursuing their goal of rapid stealthy privatisation with medical services increasingly being run for private profit rather than public benefit, threatening an increasingly under funded public service which delivers high quality service at low cost and remains the envy of the world.

This privatisation is continuing. Last month it was announced that Operose Health Ltd, a UK subsidiary of one of the larger US health insurance companies, is taking over AT Medics, which runs 49 General Practice surgeries across London, with around 370,000 Londoners registered at them. When the takeover was finalised on 10th Feb, the six GPs who had been the directors of AP Medics resigned and were replaced by Operose staff – who include two who had in previous years held high-level positions in NHS England, a public body of the Department of Health set up to oversee the commissioning side of the NHS under that 2012 Act.

The Save our NHS March on March 4th, 2017 pointed out that the Sustainability and Transformation Plans which NHS organisations and local authorities were made to produce as 5 year plans from 2016-21, intended to counteract some of the worst effects of the 2012 Act, were leading to cuts in services and hospital closure and had already caused many premature deaths. They are a part of the rapid stealthy privatisation with medical services increasingly being run for private profit rather than public benefit, threatening an increasingly under funded public service which delivers high quality service at low cost and remains the envy of the world.

It was a large march, and made up largely of those who work in various parts of the NHS and have clear view of the actual consequences of the effects of government actions, and many of them spoke before the march set off. Most medical professionals do the work they do through a strong sense of vocation rather than being motivated by money, and as we have seen over the past year, many have worked long over their paid hours, and often with inadequate personal protection because of decisions taken to lower the stocks of supplies and the cuts in beds, the cutting of support for the training of nurses, changes to contracts for junior doctors and other measures.

Looking at the faces in these pictures – and I took many more on the day – I wonder how many of them have died because of their dedication to their job of saving our lives. I wonder how many are suffering the prolonged debilitating effects of ‘long covid’, how many mental illness because of a year of working under extreme stress.

Some carried signs ‘Born in the NHS’. I wasn’t but I grew up with it and it was there when I needed it, and still is. Others carried that quote attributed to Aneurin Bevan, though he probably never said it,”The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.” There were perhaps 50,000 on this march showing they were ready to do so.

More pictures in My London Diary: Save our NHS March


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