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NHS at 65

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Caroline Molloy, one of Stroud Against the Cuts' volunteer co-ordinators, and a member of Gloucestershire 38 Degrees writes the following on the recent 65th birthday of the NHS

(an edited version of this piece has since appeared in the Citizen)


"The NHS was founded on the principle of healthcare for all, regardless of

ability to pay. I think we all recognise that anyone could have the

misfortune to be ill, or have a sick child. The NHS expresses a kind of

collective solidarity that is becoming too rare in today's society.



The NHS’s founder Nye Bevan was also very clear that there was no place for

the profit motive in healthcare. We only have to look to America - where

they spend twice as much on a fully marketised system, yet healthcare bills

are the leading cause of bankruptcy even amongst people with healthcare

insurance, to see his wisdom.



But things are changing. Last year’s Health & Social Care Act removed the

government’s legal duty to secure a comprehensive healthcare system, for

the first time since the NHS’s foundation. The government is already trying

to wash its hands of responsibility, blaming doctors, managers, patients,

anyone but themselves for rising waiting times and A&E problems. Meanwhile

they cut the NHS’s budget by nearly 25% over 5 years.




They've also wasted £3billion on a reorganisation that most staff oppose

and which just divides the NHS up into bits that are easier to privatise

(and makes it easier for people to jump the queue if they can pay). People

don't realise how much has already gone to profit making companies, hiding

under the NHS logo. Only last month, Patient Transport Services was

privatised, and we hear rumours more is to be put up to the lowest bidder.

Such moves would fly in the face of last year’s consultation on the future

of Gloucestershire’s 9 District hospitals, when 96% of respondees voted

against going out to such an auction. Increasingly, we aren’t even given

the choice.



Local health managers may say privately their hands are tied by the new

laws. But if that is so - and its currently unclear - I hope at least

they’ll be honest with us about it. I also hope they won’t pretend that

privatisation is a magic answer that can somehow save money without any

cuts to service and skilled staff.



We hear a lot of talk now about ‘care closer to home’ but we must ensure

this doesn’t just mean a heavier burden falling on patients and their

carers, a reduction in hospital beds, more money wasted on technologies

like ‘telehealth’ that aren’t suitable for everyone, and ultimately, people

having to pay. Privately provided, means-tested home social care is already

a disaster.



We’re promised the NHS will remain ‘free at the point of need’ but there

are already calls from some in government for people to be charged to see

their GP, or for pensioners to lose their free prescriptions. If we don’t

change direction now, we are headed to a system where private companies

pick off the profitable bits of work, NHS providers struggle to survive,

and the NHS ends up providing a rudimentary service (still ‘free’) whilst

people pay insurance premiums to get anything decent. I hope people will

work with anti-cuts groups and local 38 Degrees groups and make sure this

doesn’t happen - and we must hold our local politicians accountable as