Tag: John Major

Rationing and resource gatekeeping in the NHS is the consequence of privatisation

People march through London to mark 70 years of the NHS

People march through London yesterday to mark 70 years of the NHS.

Gatekeeping has become a watchword within our public services over the past seven years. It’s being driven by the government’s deep affection for neoliberal dogma, the drive for never-ending ‘efficiency savings’ and the Conservatives’ lean, mean austerity machine. Perish the thought that the public may actually need to use the public services that they have funded through their contributions to the Treasury, in good faith. 

In the NHS, even the resource gatekeepers have gatekeepers, those receptionists standing sentry at the end of the telephone, and in general practices, who ration access to the GPs so assiduously we patients often get better before we’ve managed to arrange an appointment. Or ended up at an Accident and Emergency Department.

Only a service dedicated to keeping the public and service providers apart could have devised a system so utterly demeaning. It turns patients into supplicants and receptionists into bouncers who make decisions they are unlikely to be qualified to make, neither being roles to which any of us aspired.

Now, it has been decided that the NHS needs to scrap more medical procedures, including injections for back pain, surgery to help snorers and knee arthroscopies for arthritis, which form part of an initial list of 17 operations that will be discontinued completely or highly restricted by NHS England as many of these problems “get better without treatment.”

I can assure you that arthritis of the knee, or anywhere else for that matter, doesn’t tend to get better. Medical interventions can help patients with ‘managing’ the condition, however. 

Varicose vein surgery and tonsil removal also feature on the list of routine operations to be axed as part of NHS England’s drive to cease “outdated” and “ineffective” treatments.

The latest round of rationing is hoped to save £200m a year by reducing “risky” or “unnecessary” procedures. Patients are to be told they have a responsibility to the NHS not to request “useless treatment.”

However, complications from varicose veins, for example, include leg ulcers which require more costly specialist treatment to help them heal. 

Steve Powis, the medical director of NHS England, said: I’m confident there is more to be done”, adding that the list of 17 operations formed “the first stage” of rooting out futile treatments that are believed to cost taxpayers £2bn a year.

“We are also going to ask ‘Are there other procedures and treatments we should add to the list?’. Additions could include general anaesthetics for hip and shoulder dislocations and brain scans for patients with migraines.

Hip and shoulder dislocations are notoriously excruciating, as is the process of having the joint relocated, though the latter is short-lived. It’s particularly brutal to leave patients without pain relief, and especially children.

The reason why brain scans are often very important when people develop migraine symptoms is that they can determine whether the severe headaches are caused by something more serious, such as a subarachnoid haemorrhage (which happened to me) or a tumour (which happened to my mother). Sometimes ‘migraines’ are something else.
Powis added: “We have to spend taxpayers’ money wisely. Therefore, if we are spending money on procedures that are not effective, that is money we could spend on new treatments that are clinically effective and would provide benefits to patients. It’s absolutely correct that, in getting more efficient, one component of that is to make sure we are not undertaking unnecessary procedures.”

The rationing comes as the government prepares to raise taxes and ditch an increase to the personal income tax allowance to pay for NHS funding plans. According to proposals, £20.5bn of extra funding would be set aside for the health service by 2023. In a speech at the Royal Free hospital in London a fortnight ago, Theresa May said tax rises were inevitable.

However, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that this additional measure will ensure the public has value and adequate health care for their money. 

The prime minister said: “As a country, taxpayers will need to contribute a bit more.But we will do that in a fair and balanced way. And we want to listen to people about how we do that, and the chancellor will bring forward the full set of proposals before the spending review.”

Here are the 17 treatments NHS England may axe

Four procedures will only be offered at the request of a patient:

  • Snoring surgery
  • Dilation and curettage for heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Knee arthroscopies for osteoarthritis
  • Injections for non-specific back pain

A further 13 treatments will only be offered when certain conditions are met:

  • Breast reduction
  • Removal of benign skin lesions
  • Grommets for glue ear
  • Tonsillectomy
  • Haemorrhoid surgery
  • Hysterectomy for heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Removal of lesions on eyelids
  • Removal of bone spurs for shoulder pain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome release
  • Dupuytren’s contracture release
  • Excision of small, non cancerous lumps on the wrist called ganglia
  • Trigger finger release
  • Varicose vein surgery

Some of these procedures do improve the quality of people’s lives. I’m wondering how this sits with the government’s drive to push people with disabilities and medical conditions into work.

Although it was announced recently that the NHS is to hire 300 employment coaches to find patients jobs to “keep them out of hospital.” It’s what the government probably calls the ‘two birds and one bullet’ approach.

A man with a birthday placard as thousands of people march to mark 70 years of the NHS

Yesterday, tens of thousands of people marched through London to mark the NHS’s 70th anniversary and demand an end to government cuts and further privatisation of the health service. Bearing placards reading “Cuts leave scars”, “For people not profit” and “Democracy or corporate power” demonstrators moved down Whitehall on Saturday afternoon to the chant of “Whose NHS? Our NHS”.

The protesters stopped outside Downing Street to demand Theresa May’s resignation en route to the stage where they were greeted by a choir singing “the NHS needs saving, don’t let them break it”. Shortly after, Jeremy Corbyn addressed the crowd – organisers said there were about 40,000 people present – demanding an end to privatisation, the closure of the internal market, for staff to no longer be subcontracted to private companies and for social care to be properly funded.

Corbyn said: “There have been huge attacks on our NHS over many years,” he said. “The Tories voted against the original legislation and have always sought to privatise it and continue an internal market.

“Paying money out to private health contractors, the profits of which could and sometimes do, end up in tax havens around the world.

“Think it through, you and I pay our taxes because we want a health service for everybody, I don’t pay my taxes for someone to rip off the public and squirrel the profits away.”

I absolutely agree. 

A brief history of the travailing NHS under Conservative governments

The government has failed to adequately fund the NHS since taking office as part of the coalition in 2010, and has overseen a decline in the once widely admired public health service, as a way to privatise it by stealth. 

The Tories have utilised a spin technique that carry Thatcher’s fingerprints – it’s called ‘don’t show your hand.’

Image result for nhs safe in our hands

Jeremy Hunt and the Conservatives insist the NHS is ‘safe in our hands’

Chris Riddell 16.08.09

The direction of travel was set 25 years ago by the NHS review announced by Margaret Thatcher on the BBC Panorama programme in January 1988. The Conservatives have a poor track record with the NHS. Thatcher ushered in the NHS internal market, the mechanism that introduced what many in the health service still revile: competition.

Health authorities ceased to run hospitals but instead “purchased” care from hospitals who had to compete with others to provide it and became independent, self-governing trusts. The stated aim was to ‘increase efficiency’ and ‘eliminate waste’ through competition. Yet by the time John Major was prime minister, we saw the crisis deepen, with the postcode lottery and patients parked on hospital trolleys in hospital corridors for hours on end, waiting to see a worn out, overworked doctor.  

In order to assess the impact of Thatcher’s legacy on healthcare, it’s essential to appreciate that NHS market reforms began on her watch. Even the apparently relatively minor step of outsourcing hospital cleaning services was to cast a dark shadow over hospital care decades later. Putting cleaning services out to competitive tender meant that the job of cleaning wards went to the lowest bidder – often to companies that used casual, untrained staff, supplied by job centres. The contrast between the high quality of surgical treatment and the dirtiness of wards became notorious. The level of hospital-acquired infections grew steadily, including those caused by  ‘superbugs’  including MRSA. 

A study published by the Health Service Journal laid the blame for the rise of antibiotic resistant infections on poor hygiene standards; finding hospitals full of rubbish, uncollected left-over food in canteens and dirty linen strewn over bedroom floors. The impact outsourcing has had on cleaning services has been a constant source of tension since those early reforms. While trade unions and medical professionals have consistently argued against it, business leaders have always rejected any connection between outsourcing, infection rates, and declining standards.

Public sector outsourcing is central to the present government’s ideological strategy, despite the evidence that is now stacked against it being genuinely ‘competitive’. Since 2010, the number of large contracts awarded has increased by over 47% with tens of thousands of workers in various sectors – health, defence and IT – being transferred to corporate employers like Serco, Capita and G4S. The UK’s public sector has become the largest outsourcing market in the world, accounting for around 80% of all public sector contracting in Europe. These multinationals are not particularly interested in competition; they’re interested in profit and being in a monopoly position where they can dominate the market. Despite the wake of scandals that follows these companies, growth in the public sector outsourcing market shows no signs of slowing and the government shows no signs of learning from these events. 

Thatcher wanted to introduce even more radical changes – such as a shift to an insurance based healthcare model, with ‘health stamps’ for the poor – but in a busy decade, it seems that her battles with trade unions and left-wing Labour councils took priority.

It was under Thatcher’s administration that the climate of austerity began within the NHS. 

Then there was the Black Report into health inequalities, published in 1980 after a failed attempt by the  Conservatives to block its publication, noted that health inequalities in the UK were linked to socio-economic factors such as income, housing and conditions of work. The government rejected the report’s findings and recommendations.

Conservatives published a policy book called Direct Democracy in 2005. It claimed that the NHS was “no longer relevant”, and a system was proposed whereby patients were funded “either through the tax system or by way of universal insurance, to purchase health care from the provider of their choice” – with the poor having their contributions “supplemented or paid for by the state”. The authors included the current health secretary Jeremy Hunt. 

Against a backdrop of austerity and public cuts, healthcare facilities are continuing to contract out their facilities management and clinical services. But, the practice remains deeply controversial and the consequences are becoming more visible. 

Thatcher’s competitive tendering was introduced for cleaning, catering and other ancillary non-medical services, and were extended by the Tories in the ’90s under the NHS and Community Care Act – the first piece of legislation to introduce an internal market into the provision of healthcare. This was followed by the Private Finance Initiative (PFIs) in 1992 under the Major government.  Lansley’s reforms – premised on ‘increasing the diversity of providers in the management of the NHS’ – represent only the culmination of this legacy.

A centrally funded health service has demonstrated its a major contribution to reducing health inequality, by permitting healthcare practitioners and policy makers to design services and deliver care based on need, not the profit incentive. An increasingly privatised NHS has simply led to rationing and inadequate healthcare.

The biggest single contribution to health inequality is social inequality, a problem that has deteriorated significantly in the wake of the Conservative agenda of combined economic austerity and welfare reform.

Image result for hands up NHS
Image courtesy of Robert Livingstone 

 

Related

The Coalition has deliberately financially trashed the NHS to justify its privatisation

Rogue company Unum’s profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paper

Private bill to introduce further charges to patients for healthcare services is due for second reading today

Labour challenge government about ‘shocking’ rise in coroner warnings over NHS patient deaths

 


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Prologue to the Chilcot Report

 

“The children of Iraq have names.
Their names are not collateral damage.”

David Krieger, peace wager, founder and president of The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

“I saw things that I won’t forget for as long as I live… When you hear people shouting the words ‘gas’ or ‘chemicals’ — and you hear those shouts spreading among the people — that is when terror begins to take hold, especially among the children and the women. Your loved ones, your friends, you see them walking and then falling like leaves to the ground. It is a situation that cannot be described — birds began falling from their nests; then other animals, then humans. It was total annihilation. Whoever was able to walk out of the town, left on foot. Whoever had a car, left by car. But whoever had too many children to carry on their shoulders, they stayed in the town and succumbed to the gas.”

Kherwan. From: Halabja: Survivors talk about horror of attack, continuing ordeal.

“It was life frozen. Life had stopped, like watching a film and suddenly it hangs on one frame. It was a new kind of death to me. (…) The aftermath was worse. Victims were still being brought in. Some villagers came to our chopper. They had 15 or 16 beautiful children, begging us to take them to hospital. So all the press sat there and we were each handed a child to carry. As we took off, fluid came out of my little girl’s mouth and she died in my arms.”

Photo journalist Kaveh Golestan, describing the Halabja Massacre, a chemical weapon attack on Kurdish people that took place on March 16, 1988, which was part of the Iraqi Al-Anfal Genocide Campaign.

All lives are equally precious. 

Many good writers have added their own footnotes to the Chilcot report. However, there is a broader context to the war in Iraq, which has been edited from the mainstream narrative. There doesn’t seem to be anyone writing about that context. In fact that’s been purged from the conversation. I don’t like to see issues reduced to political opportunism and party politics, but that has happened, too. 

“Lamp post or bonfire for Mr Blair.” Gosh, we get to choose.

But the mainstream column of truth has more than one hole in it. 

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a temporary solace, a curious savage satisfaction and a kind of sublimation value to be had in simply hating Blair. I’ve done it. But it’s rather like trying to put an ocean onto a teaspoon in the long run. Besides, whilst I know emotions are a fundamental part of being human, and as such are important, I also value rational discourse, too. There’s so much more to be said on this, regarding the historic political expedience of successive western governments, which has had catastrophic humanitarian consequences beyond the Iraq invasion. That must not be excluded from mainstream conversation. The UK government also played a part in arming a brutal dictator with chemical weapons, which resulted in atrocities and genocide.

For the record, I protested against the Iraq war. I didn’t like Tony Blair because he betrayed the working-class, he was an advocate of neoliberalism. I didn’t like his anti-terrorism laws or his anti-social behaviour legislation, which were repressive and symptomatic of a horrible “lowest common denominator” type of populism creeping into public policy. But I nonetheless valued some of his social policy programme, most of which the current government are so busy trying to repeal. That’s a clear indication that at least most of his social policies were not ideologically Conservative, even if his economic approach was, albeit a diluted version.

The Equality Act, the Human Rights Act, the Worker’s Rights and Union laws, the Every Child Matters Policy (repealed the day after the Tories took office in 2010 by Michael Gove), animal welfare legislation and the Gender Recognition Act, repeal of Section 28, were all examples of very good public policies. Saying that does not make me  a “Blairite.” It simply makes me someone who looks critically at policy with a balanced and evidence-based approach. Everyone knows what Blair did wrong, few are prepared to recognise nowadays what he actually got right.

All of this said, as an ideological experiment, New Labour’s dabble with neoliberalism has had profoundly damaging consequences for the Labour Movement, and the Left more generally. It resulted in widespread disillusionment, a sense of working-class disenfranchisement and alienation, factionism, infighting and disunity. But much of this, curiously, only became clearly evident from 2010 onwards, when a much harsher neoliberal government gained Office, imposing a strict and devastating austerity programme and an unprecedented authoritarianism on the UK. 

So, the man who worked with Mo Mowlem, sitting down with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to broker peace with the Good Friday Agreement, is now regarded only as a “warmonger.”

Meanwhile I’m utterly bewildered, watching on as Jeremy Corbyn, a staunchly anti-neoliberal leader and the thoroughly decent bloke that I voted for, is being hung by the Bolsheviks, on orders from the Mensheviks. No-one is ever good enough to lead the Labour Party, apparently. It beggars belief and shows a fairly widespread lack of joined-up thinking. At the very least, it shows how rubbish the Left are at organisation, strategic thinking and tactical voting, from grassroots level upwards. We really need to learn. Because a class-war waging authoritarian government imposing such an unforgiving ideological brand of Conservative neoliberalism and desolating austerity can never be better than a Labour government, be it under the leadership of Ed Miliband or Jeremy Corbyn.

I digress. 

Some history

In 2003, most of the Ulster Unionists and Conservatives voted to send British troops into military action in Iraq, the Conservative votes carried the motion that authorised the Iraq conflict, since 140 Labour MPs rebelled against their party’s whip. Robin Cook resigned and there was a memorable backbench rebellion. Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute to Cook yesterday in parliament, and said that he had: “said in a few hundred words what has been confirmed by this [Chilcot] report in more than two million.” All of the Liberal Democrats voted against military action, too. Let’s not forget the then Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, who was also an implacable opponent of the Iraq war, despicably demonised by the mainstream media. He’s officially vindicated by the Chilcot Report, like Cook and others. The Tory whip, John Randall, also resigned over his party’s stance on Iraq. Throughout the conflict, Blair remained the strongest supporter of the United States plan to invade Iraq, though originally seeking a UN Mandate. 

Parliament gave Blair the go-ahead for the Iraq war. It highlights a big problem with democracy: we didn’t vote for that. In the end, despite a total of seven resignations from the government, and three from the Tory shadow cabinet, the Iraq war happened. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Iain Duncan Smith had led Conservative MPs in demanding a rush to war from 2002, too. 

Before the invasion, the (then) UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, advised Blair that the war would be in breach of international law for six reasons, ranging from the lack of a second United Nations resolution to UN inspector Hans Blix’s continuing search for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Ten days later on 7 March 2003, as UK troops were massing in Kuwait, Lord Goldsmith changed his mind, saying:

“I remain of the opinion that the safest legal course would be to secure the adoption of a further resolution to authorise the use of force … Nevertheless, having regard to the information on the negotiating history which I have been given and to the arguments of the US Administration which I heard in Washington, I accept that a reasonable case can be made that resolution 1441 is capable in principle of reviving the authorisation in 678 without a further resolution.”

He concluded his revised analysis, saying that “regime change cannot be the objective of military action.”

From John Major’s Commons Statement on the first Gulf War – 17th January 1991: Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) In view of the precipitate abandonment of sanctions and the onslaught of this bloody conflict, will the Government learn some lessons? For example, the arms and ammunition used against our service men will have been sold to Iraq by western nations. Indeed, components for the manufacture of arms have been sold from this nation. Will the Government make serious efforts to develop an arms embargo to curtail the wretched trade in arms throughout the rest of the world and make sure that the opportunity for conflicts such as this is limited? Or do the Government intend to put profit before peace?

It emerged that during the first Gulf War, “friendly fire” killed more British troops than the Iraqis did – of 16 British soldiers who died, nine were killed by Americans. Of 148 Americans who died, 35 were killed by friendly fire. Iraqi deaths were estimated at 50,000, with 100,000 wounded.

Some more history: when our friend Saddam was gassing Kurdish people.

Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 with the support of the Arab states, the UK, United States, and Europe. Many viewed Iraq as “an agent of the civilized world.” So they said. The blatant disregard of international law and violations of international borders were completely ignored,  Iraq received economic and military support from its allies, who turned a blind eye to Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical warfare against the Kurds and the Iranians, and to Iraq’s efforts to develop a nuclear programme. The United States provided diplomatic and military aid, financial aid and also supplied Iraq with “satellite photos showing Iranian deployments.

The US had opened full diplomatic relations with Iraq, the country was removed from the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Former United States Assistant Secretary of Defense Noel Koch later stated: “No one had any doubts about [the Iraqis’] continued involvement in terrorism… The real reason was to help them succeed in the war against Iran, because the West, Russia and China feared the potential expansion of revolutionary Iran’s influence in the region.” 

The biological weapons programme

During the early 1980s, five German firms supplied equipment to manufacture botulin toxin and mycotoxin to Iraq. Strains of “dual-use ” biological agents and material from France also helped advance Iraq’s biological warfare programme. From the United States, in addition to exporting the advanced computers, some of which were used to develop Iraq’s nuclear programme, American Type Culture Collection – a non-profit organisation, and the Centers for Disease Control sold or sent biological samples to Iraq up until 1989, which Iraq claimed to need for medical research.

These materials included botulism, anthrax and West Nile virus, camel pox, rotavirus, Brucella melitensis, and Clostridium perfringens (gas gangrene). Some of these were used for vaccine development, whilst others were used in Iraq’s bioweapons research programme. Details of the bioweapon programme surfaced only in the wake of the Gulf War (1990–91)

During UN inspections in 1998, it was evident that Hussein had overseen prisoners tied to stakes and bombarded with anthrax and chemical weapons for experimental purposes. These experiments began in the 1980s during the Iran–Iraq War, after initial experiments had been carried out on sheep and camels. Dozens of prisoners are believed to have died in terrible agony during the programme. According to an article in the London Sunday Times:

“In one incident, Iranian prisoners of war are said to have been tied up and killed by bacteria from a shell detonated nearby. Others were exposed to an aerosol of anthrax sprayed into a chamber while doctors watched behind a glass screen. Two British-trained scientists have been identified as leading figures in the programme …”

The deployment of chemical weapons

On 16 March 1988, the Kurdish town of Halabja was attacked with chemical weapons, using a mix of mustard gas and nerve agents, 5,000 civilians were massacred, 10,000 more were maimed, disfigured or seriously debilitated. Thousands more died from the after effects of the attack. The massacre was part of the Al-Anfal Campaign – a genocide programme designed to reassert central control of the mostly Kurdish population of rural northern Iraq and defeat the Kurdish peshmerga rebel forces. Hussein’s goals were to systematically terrorize and exterminate the Kurdish population in northern Iraq, to silence Hussein’s critics, and to test the effectiveness of his chemical and biological weapons.

Hussein launched chemical attacks against 40 Kurdish villages and on thousands of innocent civilians in 1987-88. The United States now maintains that Saddam ordered the attack to terrorize the Kurdish population in northern Iraq, but Hussein’s regime claimed at the time that Iran was responsible for the attacks. Apparently, the US supported this account of events, changing the story several years later. The Al-Anfal genocide campaign also targeted Assyrians, Turkoman people, Shabaks and Yazidis people and Mandeans, many villages belonging to these ethnic groups were also completely destroyed. Human Rights Watch estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 people were killed. Some Kurdish sources put the number higher, estimating that some 182,000 Kurds were killed in total.

Iraqi Kurds have been especially critical of the UK, given its support and arms shipments to Saddam Hussein during the 1980s. The extent to which Margaret Thatcher’s government was responsible for arming Iraq was revealed in 2011, when secret government files from 1981 were made public. The documents show Thatcher’s approval of large military contracts with Iraq and indicate her turning a blind eye to ongoing private sales of allegedly “non-lethal” military equipment. According to the documents, she sought to “exploit Iraq’s potentialities as a promising market for the sale of defence equipment.”  So the “free-markets” of the West aren’t morally discerning at all. Nor are those promoting them. Whilst the world turned a blind eye, many thousands died as a direct consequence. 

John Major’s government faced an ongoing inquiry into how ministers such as Alan Clark had encouraged businesses to supply arms to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, in breach of the official UN arms embargo, and how senior ministers had, on legal advice, attempted to withhold evidence of this official connivance when directors of Matrix Churchill were put on trial for breaking the embargo. It’s funny, the things we forget when someone else is drawing all the fire. Despite the interview with John Pilger, and the Scott Inquiry.

The Iraq Arms scandal period coincided roughly with the 8 years of war between Iraq and Iran, when Margaret Thatcher was the UK Prime Minister. The revelations prompted the Scott Inquiry, set up in 1992 after the collapse of the Matrix Churchill trial, which reported in 1996. Four directors of Matrix Churchill, a British machine tools manufacturer in Coventry, were put on trial for supplying “equipment and knowledge” to Iraq, but in 1992 the trial collapsed when it became clear that the company had been advised by senior government ministers and officials on how best to circumvent its own arms embargo. Much of both the report itself and the Inquiry’s evidence remain classified.

Sir Richard Scott’s three-year inquiry led him to conclude that the government had secretly “eased” UN and its own guidelines on arms sales to Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The British Cabinet had set up a secret sub-committee to oversee the project, with both the Home Office (MI5) and MI6 ordered to support the illegal exports. Michael Heseltine, Willie Whitelaw, Francis Pym, Geoffrey Howe and the then PM Thatcher gave the project government approval. During the 1992 Matrix Churchill trial, ex-Minister Alan Clark said “The interests of the West were best served by Iran and Iraq fighting each other, and the longer the better.”

It is inconceivable that Major, as Foreign Secretary in 1989, could have been unaware of the Matrix Churchill export to Iraq. The affair caused a major scandal which contributed to growing dissatisfaction with the then Conservative government of John Major and somewhat ironically contributed to the victory of Tony Blair’s New Labour at the 1997 general election.

By the end of the 1980s, Baghdad had acquired a massive arsenal – enabling it to fight against Iran and launch offensive operations such as Al-Anfal. 

In 1990, a case of nuclear triggers bound for Iraq were seized at Heathrow Airport. The British government also financed a chlorine factory that was intended to be used for manufacturing mustard gas. A chemical plant which the United States said was a key component in Iraq’s chemical warfare arsenal was secretly built by Britain in 1985. Documents show British ministers knew at the time that the £14m plant, called Falluja 2, was likely to be used for mustard and nerve gas production. 

Paul Channon, then trade minister, concealed the existence of the chlorine plant contract from the US administration, which was quite properly pressing for controls on such types of exports. He also instructed the export credit guarantee department (ECGD) to keep details of the deal secret from the public.

The papers show that Mr Channon rejected a “strong plea” from a Foreign Office minister, Richard Luce, that the deal would ruin Britain’s image in the world if news got out: “I consider it essential everything possible be done to oppose the proposed sale and to deny the company concerned ECGD cover”.

The Ministry of Defence also warned that it could be used to make chemical weapons. But Mr Channon, in support of Mrs Thatcher’s policy of supporting the dictator, said: “A ban would do our other trade prospects in Iraq no good.”

Saddam Hussein was internationally condemned for his use of chemical weapons during the 1980s against Iranian and Kurdish civilians during and after the Iran–Iraq War. In the 1980s, he pursued an extensive biological weapons programme and a nuclear weapons programme, though as far as we know, no nuclear bombs were built.

However, the United States and the UK blocked condemnation of Iraq’s known chemical weapons attacks at the UN Security Council. No resolution was passed during the war that specifically criticised Iraq’s use of chemical weapons, despite the wishes of the majority to condemn this use. On March 21, 1986 the United Nations Security Council recognized that “chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian forces.” This statement was opposed by the United States, the sole country to vote against it in the Security Council (the UK abstained). The UN confirmed that Iraq was using chemical weapons against Iranian troops after dispatching a team of specialists to the area in 1984, and again in 1986 and 1987, to verify the claims of the use.

By 2002, according to reports from the previous UN inspection agency, UNSCOM, Iraq produced 600 metric tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, VX and sarin, and nearly 25,000 rockets and 15,000 artillery shells, with chemical agents, that remained unaccounted for. UN weapons inspectors, the United States, France, United Kingdom, Germany and other countries thought that this declaration failed to account for all of Iraq’s chemical and biological agents. Many of these countries had supplied the Iraqi regime with the technology to make the weapons in the 1980s during the Iran–Iraq War. However, there was no evidence of Iraq having built any nuclear weapons.

Oil on troubled slaughter

Declassified UK government documents indicate that the Iraq war was also about oil. At the time that the UK invaded, Iraq had nearly a tenth of the world’s oil reserves – and government documents clearly state that oil was a consideration before the war. In May 2003, a Foreign Office strategy paper highlighted  government motives which related to Iraq’s oil resources:

“The future shape of the Iraqi industry will affect oil markets, and the functioning of Opec, in both of which we have a vital interest.”

and:

“… an oil sector open and attractive to foreign investment, with appropriate arrangements for the exploitation of new fields.”

Bush administration officials quite openly considered proposals that the United States tap Iraq’s oil to help pay for a military occupation. Such a move, however, fueled existing suspicion of US motives in Iraq. Officially, the White House agreed that oil revenue would play an important role during an occupation period, but only for the benefit of Iraqis, according to a National Security Council spokesman. 

But there were strong advocates inside the administration, including in the White House, for appropriating the oil funds as “spoils of war,” according to a source who has been briefed by participants in the talks. “There are people in the White House who take the position that it’s all the spoils of war,” said the source, who asked not to be named. “We (the United States) take all the oil money until there is a new democratic government.” The source said the Justice Department had doubts about the legality of such a move.

Days after the US invasion, the (then) Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told a congressional panel that Iraqi oil revenues would help pay for reconstructing the country, ie a cost of the war. “The oil revenue of that country could bring between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. We’re dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon,” he said.

One month before the war, the White House press secretary at the time, Ari Fleischer, said Iraq “is a rather wealthy country … And so there are a variety of means that Iraq has to be able to shoulder much of the burden for their own reconstruction.”

Britain co-sponsored a resolution in the Security Council which gave the US and UK control over Iraq’s oil revenues. Far from “all oil revenues” being used for the Iraqi people, Resolution 1483 continued to make deductions from Iraq’s oil earnings to pay compensation for the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

David Whyte and Greg Muttitt have pointed out that:Buried in deep in volume 9 of the 2.6 million-word report, Chilcot refers to government documents that explicitly state the oil objective, and outlining how Britain pursued that objective throughout the occupation. But he does not consider this evidence in his analysis or conclusions. Oil considerations do not even appear in the report’s 150-page summary.

To many people around the world, it was obvious that oil was a central issue, as Iraq itself had nearly a tenth of the world’s oil reserves, and together with its neighbouring countries nearly two thirds. There was a clear public interest in understanding how that affected UK decisions. Chilcot failed to explore it.

Section 10.3 of the report, in volume 9, records that senior government officials met secretly with BP and Shell on at several occasions (denied at the time) to discuss their commercial interests in obtaining contracts. Chilcot did not release the minutes, but we had obtained them under the Freedom of Information Act: they are posted here. In unusually expressive terms for a civil service write-up, one of the meeting’s minutes began, “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there” (emphasis in original).

That same section 10.3 refers to numerous documents revealing the UK’s evolving actions to shape the structure of the Iraqi oil industry, throughout the occupation until 2009. The government did so in close coordination with BP and Shell. This full story was told in Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq.

Despite US and UK denial that oil was a war aim, American troops were detailed to secure oil facilities as they fought their way to Baghdad in 2003. And while former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld shrugged off the orgy of looting after the fall of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad, the Oil Ministry – alone of all the seats of power in the Iraqi capital – was under American guard.

Chilcot does include references to several pre-war documents that identify a British objective to use Iraqi oil to boost Britain’s own energy supplies. For example, a February 2002 Cabinet Office paper stated that the UK’s Iraq policy falls “within our objectives of preserving peace and stability in the Gulf and ensuring energy security”. But the Foreign Office strategy paper in May 2003, which Chilcot omitted, was even more explicit.

Chilcot also acknowledges that the British government was angling to ensure British oil firms could exploit the UK’s involvement in the war. Chilcot’s documentation confirms, for example, that the US and UK worked together to privatise Iraqi oil production and guarantee a takeover from foreign companies.

“By 2010 we will need [a further] 50 million barrels a day. The Middle East, with two-thirds of the oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize lies”

Dick Cheney; US Vice-President, 1999

Operation Avarice

In 2005, the CIA collaborated with the Army Intelligence Corps, contacting an unnamed Iraqi individual who had possession and knowledge of all the legacy chemical WMD stockpiles and munitions in Iraq. The Operation was classified, most of the armed forces knew nothing about it. Chemical specialists and ordnance disposal units were assigned to the task of destroying and disposing of the recovered WMDs. It’s unknown who the individual is, or how the weapons had come into his/herpossession. Nonetheless, the person cooperated with US intelligence and sold all of the chemical WMDs to the units heading Operation Avarice. As a result, the CIA and army intelligence acquired over 400 rockets, missiles, and other chemical weapons in varying states of operational viability.

At one point, 150 separate rockets containing chemical agents were traded. Chemical experts then destroyed the weapons. Some of the weapons analysed had a concentration of nerve agents much higher than military intelligence had expected Iraq held the capabilities to develop, with the highest “agent purity of up to 25 percent for recovered unitary sarin weapons”, which was considered highly lethal.

The mission resulted in the largest recovery of chemical weapons during the Iraq war. It was confirmed that these weapons were remnants of the Iraqi weapons programme first developed during the Iran-Iraq war and also confirmed that the Hussein government had failed to dismantle and dispose WMDs in its possession. The collaboration between US military intelligence and the unnamed Iraqi proprietor resulted in minimal attacks on US military and coalition personnel or Iraqi citizenry from WMDs on a scale seen during the Iran-Iraq war, although small-scale attacks still occurred. Operation Avarice did succeed, however, in keeping the weapons off the black market.

Conclusions

The West, including the UK, had supplied Iraq with the components for manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. Prior to Blair taking office, there was the Scott Inquiry and a wake of revelations and scandals from the Thatcher administration regarding the supply of components for the assembly of WMDs (biological and chemical weapons are also classified as WMDs). Had that not been the case, there may well have been a little more clarity about Iraq’s arsenal and capabilities in 2003. Either way, I would never endorse the war. However, it is still worth considering that the UK-funded Falluja 2 featured in Colin Powell’s dossier of reasons why the world should go to war against Iraq, which was presented to the UN security council. 

Spy satellite pictures of Falluja 2, identifying it as a chemical weapons site, were previously published by the CIA, and a report by Britain’s joint intelligence committee, published with Tony Blair’s imprimatur, also focused on Falluja 2 as a rebuilt plant “formerly associated with the chemical warfare programme.” Blair also knew that we (the UK, along with the US and other countries) had sold Iraq the components for building WMDs previously, under the Thatcher/Reagan administrations. 

UN weapons inspectors toured the Falluja 2 plant in 2002 and Hans Blix, the chief inspector, reported to the security council that the chemical equipment there might have to be destroyed.

Thatcher’s government covertly supplied Iraq with armsfrom spare tank parts, terrain-following radar and Hawk fighter jets to military air and naval bases, all sold from the UK to Saddam Hussein’s despotic regime. 

“Contracts worth over £150m have been concluded [with Iraq] in the last six months including one for £34m (for armoured recovery vehicles through Jordan)” wrote Thomas Trenchard, a junior minister, in a secret letter to Mrs Thatcher in March 1981.

The letter also says that a meeting with Saddam Hussein “represent a significant step forward in establishing a working relationship with Iraq which … should produce both political and major commercial benefits”.

Mrs Thatcher wrote by hand at the top of the letter that she was “very pleased” by the progress being made.

Throughout her premiership Mrs Thatcher took a key role in securing deals for British defence companies, calling her efforts “battling for Britain”. Partly thanks to “free marketeering” efforts, the UK climbed from being the fifth to the second-largest supplier of military equipment over the decade. The terrible escalating logic of neoliberalism just sweeps humane, ethical and rational considerations triumphantly out of its way as it advances.

On record is the mercenary and duplicitous Thatcher’s greatest defence coup over the decade, which was the Al-Yamamah contract with Saudi Arabia in 1985 and 1988, one of the largest arms deals in history worth about £40bn to British Aerospace and other British companies. The push to sell arms in Iraq, encouraged by the privatisation of British Aerospace in 1981, in the end caused serious embarrassment when, in 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Britain then found itself at war with the country they had been selling weapons to just a few months earlier. Such are the risks of unregulated “market forces”, and unfettered free-trade.

As mentioned, another consequence was the Scott Report, published in 1996, which gave a very damming assessment of the Conservative government’s role in selling arms to the Middle East through the 1980s. The released report also shows that some in the government were concerned about Mrs Thatcher’s “aggressive arms sales policy.”

Monstrous free-marketeering. 

One prime ministerial brief in January 1981 warned that “if we expose ourselves to serious accusations of breach of neutrality obligation [in Iraq] or deviousness our efforts could backfire”.

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait almost certainly never would have happened without the US and the UK’s support for Iraq during the eighties. And even once it had happened, it could have been reversed without war.

Blair’s actions in initiating an unwarranted, unwanted and unforgivable war are the very tip of a very big shitberg, most of which is submerged in the murky waters of public amnesia, selective focus and party political opportunism. The war prior to that was even more unforgivable. If Blair lied or misled parliament, it can’t ever, nonetheless, touch the utterly monstrous Machiavellianism and psychopathy of his political predecessors. That doesn’t excuse what Blair did, but it would be disingenuous to disregard the broader context and history of successive government’s iniquity that led to the Iraq wars. The UK’s previous involvement in selling arms to a despot has had horrific consequences, most of which are being obscured simply because of a media and public unwillingness to recognise them. 

Most of the many thousands of Kurds that were massacred by Saddam Hussein were women and children. The UK is partly responsible for the Al-Anfal genocide. Not because of Blair’s actions, but because of Thatcher’s.

The first Gulf War probably would never have happened had Saddam Hussein not been armed by the West. It would have been very difficult to justify had Hussein not invaded Kuwait. On the balance of probabilities, nor would the second war, though oil was a significant motivating factor for the Iraq invasion, it would have been much more difficult to justify without reference to Hussein’s previous use of WMDs , which the West had provided illegally in the 80s. That permitted speculation and suspicion that some of those weapons still existed after the Gulf War to be used as a justification. 

We can’t make complete sense of events and learn anything of value if we only take a partial and ahistoric view, because the meaningful context in which events are situated matters a lot, too. Our collective short-sightedness has had terrible and ongoing consequences. 

Kurdish civilians and children matter just as much as Iraqi civilians and children. It would be without heart, hypocritical, compassionless, incoherent and unconscientious of us not to acknowledge that. 

Related

The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons

Margaret Thatcher and Iraq

How £1bn was lost when Thatcher propped up Saddam

CIA Report: Prewar Movement of WMD Material Out of Iraq

CIA: Biological Warfare. Annex B (2004)

Excerpts from “The Death Lobby. How the West Armed Iraq”

Britain’s dirty secret

Iraqi bio-scientist breaks silence

The real motive for the Iraq war is buried under the 2.6 million words of the Chilcot report

 

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WORKING FOR PATIENTS OR NOT? – a guest post by Suzanne Kelsey

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A guest post by Suzanne Kelsey, who is a key campaigner for the NHS, amongst other things.

In 1988, when Margaret Thatcher had been in office for some 9 years, and the very foundations of our NHS had been shaken with more of the public encouraged to use private medical care,  there were serious concerns about capacity in the hospital services as waiting lists increased and wards closed.  The Conservative government appointed a group of people, without consulting the health professions, to look at this growing problem.

As a result of this the NHS experienced the most significant cultural shift since its inception with a White Paper entitled, ‘Working for Patients, ’ which proposed what we now  know as the ‘Internal Market’ and the development of the purchase provider split. GPs become the purchaser and the hospitals are the providers. This passed into law as the NHS and Community Care Act 1990. Understandably there was a great deal of opposition from trade unions, Labour and the general public but it went ahead as did the Private Finance Initiative in 1992 implemented for the first time in the UK by the Conservative government of John Major.

There is no doubt that further major problems were created for our NHS, although I would question if on the same scale as we are currently witnessing with the threat of complete privatisation and the sell-off of our publically funded service to huge private international companies, who have been waiting in the wings for quite some time and would have been rubbing their hands in glee some years ago if Thatcher and the Conservatives had continued in office.

The definition of ‘privatisation’ also needs to be acknowledged because with the downgrading of facilities and existing provision struggling to meet demands, more and more people will become anxious and tempted to pay for their treatment even if it is to ensure they have a hospital bed!

We must never let this practice become the ‘norm.’ Campaigners must ensure that the ‘free at point of use’ core principle is upheld or we will be taken back to pre-war years, removing freedom from fear that was fought long and hard for by our champions of social justice. At the same time we must remember the mantra, ‘public health not private wealth’ with numerous examples available to us of how private companies will always put profits before patients, but more of that later.

When Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997 he inherited a very impoverished NHS and although we expected him to abolish the internal market this did not happen, perhaps for a variety of justifiable reasons. How do you replace crumbling hospitals and inadequate resources without massively raising taxes, whilst also limiting the upheaval that had already been caused?

Alan Milburn was Minister of State at the Department of Health during this time and he stated that after years of the Tory’s gross underfunding, there was absolutely no money to fund the infrastructure, hence the use of John Major’s PFI initiative. Labour therefore it would seem had little choice but to implement this because of the historic neglect of the NHS under the Conservatives that led to understaffing and an NHS unable to manage with the rising expectations of the population, coupled with the costly advances in modern medicine and technology.

A global recession, which was not Labour’s fault, further compounded the challenges of meeting the complex needs of the nation’s health care. Dennis Skinner MP for Bolsover Derbyshire, passionately summarised this in parliament in 2014 when he stated; ‘Between 1997 and 2010 Labour dragged the NHS from the depths of degradation that the Tories had left it in and hoisted it back to the pinnacles of achievement.’

I would like to pose some questions to those experts of marketisation and competition. My knowledge is very limited on the economic implications but I am learning, slowly but surely, through my long involvement with local and national campaigning, speaking to key people in politics and campaign groups, who are also passionate about our NHS. I become increasingly frustrated when people continually blame Labour for the introduction of privatisation  Yes Blair did carry on certain aspects of it which was a disappointment for many, including me, but perhaps my arguments surely go some way to addressing why this was.

  •  My first question is in the title of this article; ‘IS THIS WORKNG FOR PATIENTS OR NOT?’
  •  If Labour had made such massive inroads into privatisation surely there would have been no need for the Coalition’s unwieldy and costly three billion pound reforms, so huge they were just about visible from outer space and the truth is many of those who voted for it would not have time to read it fully. The bill was a long time in the writing and despite the pause because of massive opposition it was nevertheless hastily introduced by the Coalition, despite all the election promises, notably, ‘there will be no top down reorganisation of the NHS.’ They have as predicted caused unprecedented chaos and in fact a major crisis in our NHS, with exhausted frontline workers propping up a system, becoming totally stressed, angry and demoralised.

Many of the population are afraid of becoming ill, because of worrying inadequacies not only at primary and secondary health care levels but also in social care. The frail and elderly feel a burden as they are constantly labelled as ‘bed blockers,’ Thus long queues have been created to see your GP and at A+E, the gateway to the hospital, all of which can result in a lack of timely care. In contrast however Labour ensured patient satisfaction was at its highest with waiting times were at their lowest and the NHS during their time was lauded as one of the best, if not the best health service in the world.

  • Were the massive and unprecedented reforms therefore unnecessary and unjustified?
  • What are the implications for binding private contracts that have taken place across large swathes of the country if hopefully there is a change of government?
  • What lesson have been learnt from the withdrawal of Circle, the private company that took over Hitchingbrooke hospital, with claims of managers installed by these private operators creating a ‘blame culture?’ Allegedly Circle were willing to ensure local GPs incurred financial losses as long as it meant corporations continued to make a profit and the damning report about the quality of care in this hospital is shocking. CQC inspecting the hospital felt obliged to intervene when they became fearful of a sickening child and Professor Mike Richards the chief inspector of hospitals said that the findings were the worst it had ever published.
  • Clive Efford Labour MP for Eltham, South East London,   presented a private members bill to parliament in November 2014,which in order to avoid further top down reorganisation, focussed on the most damaging aspects of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, that gave powers to competition regulators to interfere in decisions of local health care commissioners. The most significant change is that the Secretary of State is once again accountable to you and me through parliament. If the bill is passed he can no longer avoid answering parliamentary questions by saying that it is down to local decision making and not his responsibility. Efford’s Bill also provides that neither EU competition rules nor EU procurement rules will apply. That is an important change from the present because, at the moment, a disappointed private provider can sue an NHS commissioner for damages for failing to put a service out to tender or running a tender process wrongly. My thanks to Clive Efford for that explanation and for securing a vote of 241 for the bill to 18 against.
  • How is this Bill progressing and how it is being supported by NHS campaign groups and health professionals.
  • If the Conservatives are allowed to waltz back in by a public who have been influenced by the hype and propaganda through a biased media and/or have become disengaged, disenchanted or disillusioned , or indeed confused by the outrageous claims of some minor parties who seem to be making it up as they go along, what do we do next!?

I hear talk of a revolution being the only answer from those extremists who are likely to be the least affected by one. Perhaps we would do well to remember that our NHS has just seen the biggest revolution since its inception in 1948. Unfortunately we have seen a glimpse into our future and the outcomes are dire, if we do not use our votes wisely.

Suzanne Kelsey 1stFebruary 2015

http://www.nhshistory.net/shorthistory.htm#_ednref15

http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/thenhs/nhshistory/Pages/NHShistory1948.aspx

https://abetternhs.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/commissioning-and-the-purchaser-provider-split/

http://www.healthp.org/node/71

http://labourlist.org/2014/11/commons-pass-vote-on-clive-effords-nhs-bill/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11333986/Damning-report-as-first-private-firm-to-run-NHS-hospital-pulls-out.html

Battle with GPs led to Circle’s retreat from Hinchingbrooke hospital,   The Guardian, January 9, 2015

Hinchingbrooke staff in CQC abuse concerns fear bosses BBC, September 29, 2014

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/uks-healthcare-ranked-the-best-out-of-11-western-countries-with-us-coming-last-9542833.html