Defend the National Health Service: Join NHS Fightback

We appeal to workers and young people to sign up to the NHS Fightback, formed by the Socialist Equality Party to oppose privatisation and the unprecedented attacks on pay and conditions of health workers.
No faith should be placed in the trade unions-Unite, Unison, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and GMB, which have betrayed every struggle mounted by health-workers.

The Conservative government has announced another £22 billion of cuts to the National Health Service (NHS) budget over the next five years. They are fully aware of the devastating impact that the previous coalition government’s £20 billion “efficiency savings” had on patient care and the jobs, wages and working conditions of 1.3 million health workers.

The Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition passed the Health and Social Care Act in 2012 to expedite the privatisation process in the most lucrative parts of the NHS. The government’s legal “duty to provide” health care was changed into a “duty to arrange” and massive swathes of the NHS budget were transferred to Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), who have undertaken a massive outsourcing of NHS-run services.

The NHS, fought for, developed and maintained by generations of health workers and funded by working people, is being hived off to private equity companies whose sole preoccupation is profit.

About 10 percent of NHS spend on health services now goes to non-NHS providers. Public hospitals will be allowed to make available almost half their beds and theatre time to private patients. Those unable to pay will be forced to the back of the queue. The first privately run NHS hospital in Hinchingbrooke ended in catastrophic failure for patient and staff. Yet before the election in May, the coalition struck a £750 million deal to sell off the largest ever chunk of health services to 11 private operators and devolved £6 billion of the NHS budget to the Labour-controlled Greater Manchester Combined Authorities.

The lowest ever funding increase for the NHS in its history and the burden of Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) have led to 114 NHS providers recording a net deficit of £800 million last year. Estimates by NHS Providers indicate that overspending by all trusts could amount to more than £2 billion by April 2016.

Dozens of Hospitals, Accident and Emergency units (A&Es), maternity units, mental health units, children’s heart units and GP surgeries have been downgraded or shut down despite popular opposition. Rationing of vital health services on which thousands of vulnerable people depend is the new normal. Many CCGs have rationed services such as hearing aids, cataract surgeries, hip and knee surgeries and vasectomy operations, further widening health inequalities already prevailing in society.

One of the first jobs of the current government is to stop the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) determining safe staff levels in hospital wards and units. Under the pretext of curbing the unnecessary spending on agency staff by NHS trusts, it has let staff shortages take their toll. The slashing of jobs and recruitment freezes have increased workloads and stress levels, adversely affecting patient care.

Boasting that it is working towards a seven-day NHS service, the government is threatening to change the contracts of consultants and junior doctors as a prelude to a wider attack on the entire NHS workforce. The Department of Health has endorsed an across-the-board reduction in payments for working unsocial hours and changes to the incremental pay progression scheme.

These attacks are made on a workforce which has seen their pension age and contribution increased with fewer benefits and a four years pay freeze. Health workers’ real wages have been slashed by 15 percent over the last five years. Many depend on unsocial hour enhancements and work elsewhere or in the Staff Resource Pool (Bank) to keep their heads above the water.

Hospital workers and the working class should draw lessons from their previous struggles. There was no lack of opposition to these attacks. The trade unions played the key role in enabling the government to push its measures through by restricting opposition to job losses, wage cuts and hospital closures to local or regional campaigns, organising token protests, petitions and writing letters to MPs. They sowed illusions that a future Labour Party government would defend the NHS, which was left in tatters by Labour’s catastrophic defeat in the election.

The trade unions will try to dissipate the upcoming struggles of the working class by subordinating them to Labour again, using the election of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader.

The ruling elite will not be satisfied until they have destroyed all the gains and conditions won by the working class. The economic crisis which began in 2008 exposed how successive governments enabled the super-rich to plunder social wealth, rig markets and cook the books. Having spent billions of pounds bailing out the banks and super-rich at tax payers’ expense, governments in every country are imposing vicious austerity measures. Their aim is to use the economic crisis to carry through a social counter-revolution against living standards and vital social provision.

Greece has been at the sharp end of this offensive, but a similar process is underway in every country, including Britain. The betrayal of the struggle against austerity by the Syriza-led government proves that the working class can place no trust in the anti-austerity rhetoric of the Corbyn faction of the Labour Party and the trade unions that back him.

The defence of health care and every other basic social right can only be taken forward through a break from the unions and the Labour Party. Action committees must be formed by patients, hospital staff and the workers and youth whose lives and health are being jeopardised.

The problem is not a lack of funds or resources, but the monopoly of wealth by the super-rich. This monopoly can only be broken by a mass movement of the working class to bring down the government and replace it by a workers’ government based on socialist policies.

Such a government would carry through a radical redistribution of wealth in favour of working people, which would include ending the obscenity of medicine-for-profit and restoring the health service as a free, high quality state-run facility for all.

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