UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Eleanor defends NHS and Gordon gives speech Miliband should have

#TUC11 After Red Ed, Congress moved on to Health and Social care. UNISON President Eleanor Smith moved the Composite opposing the changes being to the NHS in England and Wales.

Contributions came from the wide variety of health service unions, including some newcomers to the TUC tent, like the Hospital Consultants and Specialists, now TUC affiliated. Welcome to the struggle brothers and sisters. Eleanor said:-

“Congress, exactly a week ago MPs were beginning the two-day process in the House of Commons of washing their hands of responsibility for our NHS.

And then on Wednesday night they voted by a majority of 65 to give the Health and Social Care Bill its third reading.

Shamefully only four Lib Dems voted against the Bill, with a handful of others choosing to do the proper Lib Dem thing of sitting on their hands and abstaining. Gutless to the last.

This now means that all that stands between the government and its aim of breaking up the NHS is the House of Lords.

And us... Let’s be clear on the Bill: it hasn’t really changed. Yes they held what was laughably called a “listening exercise” and yes there have been some minor tweaks round the edges. But all the essentials are still there, as this Composite makes clear.

The government said that the regulator Monitor would no longer promote competition. But instead it will now “prevent anti-competitive behaviour” – sounds like the same thing to me.

They said it would not be an economic regulator because they changed the title of that section of the Bill, but it will still enforce competition law and hold concurrent powers with the Office of Fair Trading – so still an economic regulator then.

They say the responsibility for the NHS will still reside with the Health Secretary, but this is simply not true.
He or she will no longer have to provide or secure services, but will instead do so through arms length bodies such as the new Commissioning Board. So one of the founding principles of the 1946 NHS Act is unravelled.

And they say they’ve stopped privatisation – what a joke!

The policy of Any Qualified Provider remains and this was never in the Bill anyway – they’re just getting on and doing it. Companies gearing up to plunder the NHS for all its worth.

And if anything the changes to the Bill make the prospect of creeping privatisation even more certain. The government have added in a legislative block on favouring either public or private sector provision. What this means is that the NHS can never again enjoy its position as the “preferred provider” of care.

Finally MPs have begun to wake up to the damage that will be done by removing the cap on income from private patients – something UNISON has been warning about for over a year and which my union played a key part in inserting into foundation trust legislation under the Blair government. The government have not acted on this at all. They claim it will allow hospitals to improve NHS services. They are wrong.

In the current climate of cuts and austerity, hospitals will be forced to do all they can to raise cash from whatever source. If they can get unlimited amounts from those able to pay, they will have to do so or risk going under. This puts the very basis of the NHS – access based on need not ability to pay – in danger. We cannot let it happen.

UNISON has been fighting tooth and nail since the original white paper came out last summer and we will not stop now.

The TUC’s All Together for the NHS campaign has a valuable role to play in bringing all the professions of the health service together to demonstrate our unity in this fight. It is important we keep this together and bind in those non-affiliates such as the BMA and the royal colleges of nursing and midwifery.

After all, we saw last week just how low Cameron and his cronies will stoop when it comes to misinformation and obfuscation: quoting highly selective passages in briefings to justify their own policy of creative destruction. It means that none of us can offer them any grey areas to exploit.

We have to be firm and clear: this Bill must be defeated and the NHS saved from the ravages of Tory ideology and their Liberal puppets.

As the Composite makes clear, our NHS is number one for equity, number one for quality, and number one for efficiency. It is the jewel in our public service crown.

So I will not stop until we have saved it and I urge everyone here to do the same. Congress, Save the NHS and Kill this Bill.”

Southern Cross

After Health and Social care came the Southern Cross debate, where “Red Gordon” McKay gave us a taste of the kind of speech that Miliband should have made.

“Over the past 6 months we have heard time and again that the scandal of Southern Cross reminds us all of the failure of capitalism. What utter nonsense.

“Southern Cross showed us that the privatisation of health and social care under the Tories worked exactly in the way in which it was meant to work – for the benefit of the rich and powerful.

“Blackstone’s the American private equity firm that previously owned Southern Cross did exactly what the free market economic model would tell them to do. Screw every penny out of your investment and then walk away. Blackstone knew the drill off by heart. Buy the care providers, buy the company that owns the leases to the care homes allow for a period of property speculation then strip the assets and sell off the lot. Result ONE BILLION POUNDS PROFIT in 5 years for the private equity shareholders and 750 care hoes threatened with closure, and 31,000 men and women threatened with eviction form their homes.

“And make no mistake the only thing that saved these people was not Cameron’s caring side it was the fact that there were so many of them. If this had been one or two homes affecting 100 people they would have been on the streets before Cameron and Clegg could have reminded us of the good points of Rachmanism. 31,000 was just too many.

“And this is the second reason why capitalism works for the wealthy under the Tories. Whether it be Railtrack. RBS, Lloyds the PFI providers of schools and hospitals, the services that Southern Cross provided cannot be allowed to fail.

“After the speculators walk away with their bonuses and dividends having run these vital services into the ground, ordinary people have to pick up the bill and rebuild them so that the Tories can then sell them back to their friends.

“And these of course are the Tory plans for Health and Social Care. When Cameron tells his Tory friends that the dead hand of the state is getting in the way of entrepreneurship he means entrepreneurs like Southern Cross. When he talks of the enemies of enterprise he means care workers who get a proper wage working in local authorities, compared with Quarriers who want to cut wages by 23%.

“Capitalism does work. It works for the private equity forms like Blackstones. UNISON wants a system that works for the residents of the care homes.

Ed Miliband told us that the next Labour Government will have some hard choices to make. Well here is an easy one. Stop handing over money to rogues like Southern Cross and invest in publicly delivered care services that we can be proud of, rather than private ones we are ashamed of.”