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February 22, 2013 / politicsbitesize

Save our NHS

Save Our NHSIn March 2012 the UK government passed the controversial Health and Social Care Act, which ended the Secretary of State’s duty to provide health services throughout the country.  Since the start of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948, this duty was considered a key component of ensuring that the care received in hospitals and GPs’ surgeries was free at the point-of-use.

But this fundamental part of what makes the NHS so great is slowly being eroded by the Coalition Government’s implementation of this new act.  According to Lord Owen, a former Labour government Foreign Secretary and Liberal party leader, ‘The Health and Social Care Act 2012 must be changed because it removes the democratic and legal basis of the NHS at a time when services are being cut and reconfigured on an unprecedented scale’.

In order to try and counteract this deliberate dismantling of our beloved NHS, Lord Owen has presented to parliament his own National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill.  The bill seeks to reinstate the Secretary of State’s duty to provide health services, which was formerly contained within sections 1 and 3 of the NHS Act 2006.  It goes on to request that all NHS bodies and bodies providing services to and for the NHS should be subject to ministerial direction.

The first reading of this bill was in the House of Lords in January 2013 and no date has been set for a further reading.  However, in his statement Lord Owen told the House that ‘The government will no longer be responsible for providing for all your health care needs free of charge. Instead, a range of bodies not accountable to parliament, including for-profit companies, will decide which services will be freely available and to whom.’  He then went on to say that the change to the legal basis of the NHS, ‘is already being felt, ahead of the shift to the new market system in April 2013. But this issue is far from over’.

This view that the issue is still alive and kicking is echoed by Alex Nunns in Red Pepper this week.  His article ‘The health hurricane: a year of destruction in the NHS’ discusses the juxtaposition of the closure of surgeries, wards and community services across the UK, as the NHS desperately seeks to make ‘savings’ of £20bn, with the private sector buy up of around £20bn in business from the NHS.

According to Alex Nunns, ‘Huge slices of the health service are being awarded to the highest bidder. A few gluttonous companies – Virgin Care, Serco, Care UK – have secured dominant positions in the market. Until March 2012 Virgin Care did not exist, although it had been operating under another name since 2010. It now runs at least 358 GP practices.’  This wholesale takeover of NHS services by private companies is happening under our noses, but there is a belief that it can be stopped.

In the wake of the Health and Social Care Act a group of concerned doctors and activists got together to ask what could be done to prevent the destruction of the NHS.  Their answer was to try to get into parliament in the next general election.  Dr Clive Pedwell, a consultant oncologist, is now co-leader of the newly founded National Health Action Party (NHA).  The plan is to stand up to 50 candidates in the 2015 election on a pro-NHS platform.  In an interview will Alex Nunns for Red Pepper Dr Pedwell asserts that, ‘The next election is the last chance for the NHS.  If the Conservatives get back in and continue the way they are going it will be incredibly difficult to ever reverse the damage’.

However, it is not just activists and campaigners on the ground who feel something must be done to protect the NHS and Lord Owen is not the only minister to have spoken out about the damage being perpetrated by this government.  For example, the Early Day Motion (EDM) 773 that was tabled in November last year states:

That this House notes that the most significant development that has followed from the Government’s healthcare reforms has been the £7 billion worth of new contracts being made available to the private health sector; recognises the growing scandal of the procurement model that favours the private health sector over the NHS, by allowing private companies to hide behind commercial confidentiality and which compromises the best practice aspirations of the public sector; condemns the practice of revolving doors, whereby Government health advisers move to lucrative contracts in the private healthcare sector, especially at a time when the privatisation of the NHS is proceeding by stealth; is deeply concerned at the unfair advantages being handed to private healthcare companies.

To date this motion has been signed by only 96 MPs, most of whom are members of the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party and other social democratic parties.  It is possible to increase the number of supporters for both EDM 773 and Lord Owen’s bill by writing to your MP (follow the links) and spreading the word.  We must stand up for the NHS before it too late!

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