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

Sunday, 18 August 2013

The NHS is not a market commodity - say it loud on 29 September

The medical profession has finally woken up to what is really going on in the NHS. An article in this week’s Lancet exposes the government's real agenda for health:

Within three months of coming to power the Tories began implementing a well thought out and detailed strategy to dismantle the NHS. In the 65 years of its existence the Tories have tried many times but failed to undermine the underlying principles of the health service. Thatcher made a good effort in the 80's with her ham fisted attempt to open the door to the market but even she feared the backlash from the public.

During their years in opposition the Tories developed a systematic plan to finally break up the service. Key to their strategy was the need to shift public opinion. First they embarked on a costly and dangerous fragmentation of health commissioning. Secondly they implemented a tight financial squeeze, starving the service of critical resources. But the most important element of their plan was the hostile propaganda campaign against the service with the specific aim of undermining the public's faith in the NHS. UNISON recognised this tactic and throughout the campaign against the Health and Social Care Act the union exposed the Tories use of the right wing media to denigrate health delivery in England.

The Lancet article argues that the government is treating the service as if it is a failing bank or business that needs bailing out. It has adopted a media strategy which paints a bleak picture of the quality of care. This allows the government to step in and demand radical reform through market intervention. Opening the service to the private sector, argues the coalition, is the only way there can be an improvement in the quality of health care provision in England.

As the Lancet points out this is a deliberate policy to deceive the public. The government uses the many reports, Francis, Keogh, and Berwick following Mid-Staffordshire to justify their privatisation policy. Yet close reading of all these reports shows that the real impact on quality of care is shortage of essential resources, to much emphasis on financial controls and chronic staff shortages.

The article pulls no punches and exposes what the authors argue is a deliberate calculated plan to finally dismantle the NHS, and the success of the plan depends on the government winning the propaganda war with the public. This is a clever strategy from the government and it is having some success. Aneurin Bevan wrote, "A free health service is a triumphant example of the superiority of collective action and public initiative applied to a segment of society where commercial principles are seen at their worst"

Such an ethos is an anathema to this government and they see this as their best opportunity in 65 years to destroy the very foundations of the NHS. We must not allow them to win either the propaganda war or the war on the health service. It is time to mobilise NHS workers, patients, trade unions, communities to fight back. The first step is for a massive turn out at the demonstration in Manchester on 29th September to coincide with the Tory party conference in the city.