Privatising the NHS: Labour steps up the pace

‘NHS hospitals can advertise to attract patients’. ‘Anger at plan for private surgeries’. ‘Pledge to battle Virgin NHS plan’. ‘NHS chief reaffirms commitment to private primary care providers’. These are just a handful of newspaper headlines in March – welcome to Labour’s Sicko NHS. Michael Moore’s film (see review FRFI 199) is a warning of what is to come. The wholesale privatisation of health care services is now underway, and with it will inevitably come rationing and a two-tier service. Robert Clough reports.


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Privatising the NHS in Newcastle

As part of Labour’s privatisation drive, housing, education and healthcare are all for sale in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In 2006, Newcastle Hospitals NHS trust was awarded Foundation Trust status, giving it unlimited powers to enter into joint ventures with the private sector. Construction has already begun for the largest ever PFI health project in the North East and the closure of the General Hospital draws nearer. SAM MAGILL reports.

Between 1990 and 2000, Newcastle City Trust greatly cut its hospitals maintenance budget, allocating just £200,000 in 2000 for building work. This was despite reports of cash deficits (£7m for the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in 1997 alone!). Investment in much-needed refurbishment at the General Hospital (£6m) and RVI (£15m) was offered to the private sector. Then in 1998, plans were laid to close the General Hospital in order to build a new centre at the RVI providing emergency, trauma and intensive care, and neuroscience and infectious diseases services. This was due to be finished in 2002 alongside a new renal and cancer care unit at the Freeman hospital.


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Say no to a two-tier health system


60 years ago the then Labour government set up the NHS as a universal health system free at the point of use. Now Labour is dismantling it and replacing it with a two-tier system that will provide a minimal service for the poor, and an adequate one only for those who can afford to pay extra.

Fresh from awarding United Health the management of three GP practices in April, Camden PCT is now in discussions with the likes of Virgin Healthcare to set up and run a Darzi polyclinic on the University College Hospital site. This will replace four existing GP practices.


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NHS: No to two-tier health service

In 1948 the National Health Service brought to an end a system where those who could pay necessarily got better treatment. Except in so far as prescription charges applied, care was to be provided on the basis of clinical need, not the ability to pay. However, Health Secretary Alan Johnson, anticipating the results of an independent review scheduled for October, has indicated that it is very likely that the rules about top-up will be overturned and the ban on people topping up their care by paying privately for medicine while being treated on the NHS will be lifted. Yet another step is being taken towards turning the NHS into a two-tier system.


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Health matters: Inequality in the NHS

Primary care
• In 1971, Dr Tudor Hart wrote in The Lancet that ‘…the availability of good medical care tends to vary inversely with the need of the population served’. This still applies: for instance, there are still twice as many primary care professionals per head of population in Cambridgeshire as there are in Manchester. Residents of Cambridgeshire will on average live six years longer. The Office for National Statistics released life expectancy figures recently showing that a child born in the South East and South West of England in 2005 had a life expectancy of 78.9 years for males and 82.9 years for females. This compares with Scotland, where it is the shortest, 74.8 years for males and 79.7 years for females.


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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.


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