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Coalition wants 'National Wealth Service' not NHS

The story of 12-year-old Chloe McGarry in Harwich, East Anglia shows the harsh realities that many face when they seek health care.

Chloe spent five hours in agony with inflamed gums while her mother Heidi desperately searched for an NHS dentist after finding her usual clinic closed. Heidi was told by NHS Direct to drive 32 miles to Ipswich or to be seen at another surgery in Manningtree, which is 13 miles from their home.

Such tales of woe will be shared by countless others over the coming months as the Coalition government’s health cuts begin to bite. So, as we join many others today in celebrating the 63rd anniversary of the National Health Service it’s clear that its future is at stake.

The health service unions and the Trades Union Congress are warning of “the potential dismantling of the NHS in the form of Andrew Lansley's Health and Social Care Bill”.

The TUC has uncovered well over 50,000 job cuts, the figures only prised out by using Freedom of Information laws. And, the undermining and destruction of the principle of free health care is also being exposed by the independent Bureau of Investigative Journalism. It shows that popular walk-in care centres around the country are already being closed or their hours and services being reduced

Then there is the scandal of the £2.5bn cost to the NHS over five years of the GP surgeries. An investigation has shown that the amount by which the taxpayer is subsidising some GP surgeries’ rentals has risen to £630m per year (an increase of more than 70%) since 2004. At present doctors are paid rent by the NHS for a surgery, but also keep the profits from any sale of the surgery.

At least half of the board members of some GP consortia who commission health care have links with the private company Assura Medical, which is part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. (At present Primary Care Trusts spend around 80% of NHS funds, but in future the GP consortia will be responsible for 40%.)

The essence of the Coalition’s changes to the health service are described on the TUC sponsored False Economy website as leading to an “unaccountable super-quango at the heart of NHS reforms”.

Writer Richard Blogger says:

The free market model that [Secretary of State for Health] Lansley had planned could more accurately be described as the government liberated from the NHS rather than the NHS liberated from the government. Lansley did not want (and still does not want) to run the NHS – he is the first Secretary of State for Health whose primary objective is to legislate away his job… The Secretary of State has been liberated from his duties.

The proposed National Commissioning Board has aptly been renamed “National Wealth Service”. The GP consortia who will run it could benefit personally from the private companies working in the NHS.

Blogger notes, the thrust of the Coalition strategy for the NHS, in line with years of New Labour rule, “is stripping a huge amount of power from Parliament and handing it to an unaccountable quango... The Bill will specifically make it illegal for the Secretary of State – representing the elected government – from changing NHS policy.”

The NHS will truly lose any democratic scrutiny or control as a result of these changes. The TUC’s milk and water call for people to write to and lobby the House of Lords “to stop or alter” the Health and Social Care Bill disguises the real issues about the NHS and other services under attack. Democracy is being wound down and the global crisis of capitalism is driving massive cuts and changes disguised as “reforms”.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
5 July 2011

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