As Clare Williams points out, the union is right to mount a legal challenge to Con Dem plans to decimate the NHS – at the very least it exposes the undemocratic nature of the changes and gives us time to organise resistance.
It is important that we avoid selective memory and remember that the pro-choice, pro-market restructuring of the NHS originated from New Labour when in power. This was reinforced by an article by Simon Stevens in the FT on 16 July 2010 – welcoming the announcement of the Con Dem reforms: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/2932b84e-904a-11df-ad26-00144feab49a.html
These days Stevens is ‘President’ of global health at leading health privateers UnitedHealth Group. However he was the Labour Government’s health policy adviser at 10 Downing Street and the Department of Health from 1997 to 2004. He is effusive in his support for the Con Dem agenda for the NHS (aka licking his lips):
• ‘The proposals come 10 years after Tony Blair, then prime minister, took the first steps down this path. What makes the coalition’s proposals so radical is not that they tear up that earlier plan. It is that they move decisively towards fulfilling it – in a way that Mr Blair was blocked from doing by internal opposition within his own “virtual coalition” government.’
• ‘This week’s plans build on many of the past decade’s reforms: rights for NHS patients to choose where and when they are treated; a National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence setting quality standards, and an independent inspectorate to oversee them; and autonomous “foundation hospitals” accountable to an independent regulator.’
• ‘But the new plans go much further – on consumer choice, pro-competitive market regulation and the severing of day-to-day political control of the NHS. By giving responsibility for buying £70bn-£80bn of NHS care to GPs, they mark a decisive rupture with the last government’s attempt to turn NHS primary care trusts into “world-class commissioners”.’
• ‘Emerging evidence supports many of these changes. Comparisons with Scotland and Wales show that English NHS reforms have produced better services at lower cost. Research has also shown that when hospitals compete, efficiency improves and quality goes up – leading for example to 11 per cent fewer heart attack deaths. Some estimates suggest national pay bargaining may have led to more than 3,000 deaths in the past decade, through rigid local pay rates that create staff shortages in high-cost areas.’
This neo liberal analysis from within the inner circles of New Labour presents a critical question in the final phase of the Labour leadership contest. Whilst Andy Burnham’s endorsement of the UNISON Judicial Review is commendable, he and all other candidates should be asked to repudiate unequivocally not just the pro market agenda of the Con Dems in the health service but also its Blairite antecedents..
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