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Only an injection of politics can save the NHS

Peoples Inquiry into Londons NHSExactly how much damage is being caused by the government’s rushed re-organisation of the NHS? It’s a question that’s exercising the People’s Inquiry for London’s NHS, which is sponsored by Unite. Just as interesting are the remedies that are now emerging in the Inquiry’s public sessions.

The overwhelming evidence presented by health workers is that they are being pushed into doing more for less with fewer resources. The ConDem government says we can no longer afford comprehensive healthcare for all free at the point of delivery. The Inquiry has heard that what we actually cannot afford are unsustainable, fragmented healthcare providers competing against each other.

In London, where healthcare issues are acute, NHS England’s London Region is pressing for the closure of nine A&E services, with provisions to cut many more. The health needs of 7.5 million Londoners are no longer part of the equation. Budgets alone define the shape of healthcare. Apparently, there is no alternative . . . other than London’s NHS running up a deficit of £20 billion by 2020.

Has there been a mass-outbreak of selective amnesia? Who now recalls how the NHS assessed health needs, predicted future patterns and planned accordingly? Anyone in the Labour Party? It might help to jog memories to look back to the 1960s, when administration accounted for a mere three per cent of NHS costs. Today, that figure is around 20 per cent and rising fast, thanks to the Tory marketisation project.

The government’s  Neoliberal ideology provides a blueprint for dismantling the NHS and cuts drive the process. Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) are also a factor in making some hospital Trusts unsustainable. Barts Health NHS Trust, responsible for six East London hospitals, is king of the PFI debtors. Its £6.1 billion debt runs to 2045 with this year’s repayment at £130 million. Add a £50 million deficit run up this year and you can picture the insolvency practitioners already circling.

London’s Trusts have a big share of the total £65 billion NHS PFI debts, providing another illustration of how fragmenting the NHS is increasing health inequality. But roll the individual debts to the centre and the PFI millstones of individual Trusts become a more manageable 2 per cent of total NHS budgets. Alternatively, adjust the payment tariff to reflect the actual capital costs, not the average costs across all Trusts.

Aside from the costs and the finances of the NHS, the independent People’s Inquiry panel – which includes Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee, health researcher John Lister, and a clutch of health professionals and management experts – have heard the same themes recur relentlessly, including:

  • shunting patients from actute hospitals to ‘virtual beds’ ie sending sick people home and expecting cut-to-the-bone community services to treat them
  • the closure of A&Es and a move to centralised ‘super-hospitals’, usually at a distance from poorer areas
  • health inequalities exacerbated by the proposed downgrading or closure of hospitals in areas of greatest need – such as Lewisham
  • intimidation and bullying of healthworkers to remain silent over staffing levels and poor standards of care
  • health authorities refusing to engage with the public or workers and manufacturing consent
  • the impenetrability of the new regime (If you have a complaint, the only place you can escalate it to is NHS England. Good luck. )

The NHS is not dead yet and campaigners from Lewisham to Staffordshire are making some headway defending local services. The People’s Inquiry is due to report in February – with a treatment plan for saving the NHS. That ought to be the cue for a powerful, national campaign, just 14 months before the general election.

Those of us who plan to be canvassing for Labour will have an easier task if we can make it the first issue on the doorstep. After all, what’s your top priority? Yup, health – and healthcare – is right up there with happiness.


Local hearings of the People’s Inquiry for the NHS

  • Central London Friday Nov 29: 2pm-7pm
    Central Hall Westminster, Storey’s Gate London SW1H 9NH
  • SE London Friday Dec 6: 2pm-7pm

Lessoff Auditorium, Lewisham Hospital, Lewisham High St, London SE13 6LH

More info at:



  1. terry sullivan says:

    no mention of nulabs pushing PFI–no its all down to nasty condems–it is not–brown cocked up big time and no amount of rewriting of history will change that. the NHS cannot carry on as it is because half the world is using it without contributing–time to abolish it and follow French or oz system

  2. Rod says:

    “Those of us who plan to be canvassing for Labour will have an easier task if we can make it the first issue on the doorstep.”

    How easy it will be will depend on what Labour’s plans are for the NHS and on how successfully you can conceal Labour’s own shameful NHS record.

    I’ve allowed my LP membership to lapse because of what I’ve found out about Labour’s privatisation of the NHS when in government for 13 years. I didn’t notice any Labour MPs resigning and forcing by-elections over the matter of NHS privatisation/marketisation during that period. Burnham even opened up the NHS to the international healthcare market with his NHS Global initiative.

    It’s no use lining up a troop of New Labour numpties and having them huff and puff about the damage the Tories are doing – we also need to know that Labour also won’t do any more damage to NHS.

    And until we know that Labour won’t be getting my vote. And if you arrive on my doorstep mouthing-off ‘vote Labour and save the NHS’ nonsense you’ll be very lucky if you get only a very impolite response: F*ck off back to Progress.

    People who want to know the truth about Labour’s record could make a start by reading:

    NHS plc, by Prof. Allyson Pollock (an adviser to the New Labour Government who was sacked for blowing the case for PFI out of the water.)

    The Plot Against the NHS, by Profs. Colin Leys and Stewart Player.

    Read ’em and weep.

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