Attacking the NHS

nhs for sale 

There is no reason why a wealthy nation such as Britain cannot afford a good system of healthcare, with services freely available to young and old alike. But in six months’ time the NHS will face a funding crisis of unprecedented proportions, one which will intensify in the following year.

This is the inevitable consequence of the Tory spending plans which Labour will support if it wins the election. The facts are clear: spending on the NHS has risen on average 3.5% each year in real terms over the last 17 years. Because NHS inflation is higher than the general rate, savage cuts in services and rationing are still required.

Plans for the next four years are that spending will rise by less than 1% as a whole. In real terms, this will mean a cut of £2 billion over two years, and £5 billion over four years.

This is unprecedented. It makes a mockery of Labour’s claims that they will cut waiting lists. The Labour Party has already conceded to all the changes the Tories have introduced to the detriment of working class people:

• It supports the division of the NHS into purchasers and providers;

• It supports the continuation of GP fundholding under the name of ‘GP commissioning’ or ‘locality purchasing’.

• It attacks the Private Finance Initiative – privatisation by any other name – but only for being too bureaucratic;

• It supports the contracting out of ‘non-clinical’ services, with the savage attack on working conditions this brings.

Whoever wins the election, there will be draconian rationing of services. This will hit working class people most, since they experience more ill-health, particularly if they are elderly. More and more ways will be found for people to pay for treatment. Eye tests and dental check-ups are examples of this trend. The cost of a prescription has risen from 20p in 1979 to £5.65 today. None of this will change under Labour. The next step will be payment for ‘non-essential’ operations, and charges for better ‘hotel’ services – private rooms and so on. Meanwhile the NHS will be increasingly dependent on charity, which already pays for 10% of hospital equipment. The message is that the NHS, far from being safe in Labour’s hands, will increasingly become a two-tier system, where the privileged can buy the care they need, and the poor get the dregs.

FIGHT RACISM! FIGHT IMPERIALISM! 136 ELECTION SPECIAL APRIL/MAY 1997