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