A recession is no excuse for dismantling the NHS

Diane Abbott

NHSBy Diane Abbott MP

Last week, David Cameron promised a ‘public sector revolution‘, It has become clear that the top target on Cameron’s hit list is our NHS. But we know that the so-called “public sector revolution” is merely an excuse for cuts and scaling down the welfare state permanently. The Labour Party is committed to improving the National Health Service and making changes where necessary. And we accept that there is a continuing need for savings and economies. The Royal College of Nurses has led the way in encouraging its members to come forward with examples of waste.

But the economic challenges we face are no excuse for slashing the NHS. Latest figures suggest at least 50,00 jobs will go. The service was set up after the second world war, when debt as a proportion of GDP was even higher than it is today. The Conservative Party back then said that we could not afford universal healthcare. But Health Minister Nye Bevan said words that are still relevant today: “take pride”, he said, “in the fact that, despite our financial and economic anxieties, we are still able to do the most civilised thing in the world: put the welfare of the sick in front of every other consideration”.

We also know that this Conservative-led coalition has no mandate for this huge top down re-organisation. Over and over again, before the election, David Cameron insisted that he had no intention of introducing another re-organisation. And yet they are introducing these sweeping changes. These changes will break up the NHS. These changes will open up all areas of the NHS to price-cutting competition from private health companies. These changes will take away from all parts of the NHS the requirements for proper openness, scrutiny and accountability to the public and to parliament. They are driving free-market political ideology into the heart of the NHS and this is why doctors are now saying that, as it stands, the bill now spells the end of the NHS.

Like roadside confidence tricksters, David Cameron and Andrew Lansley are keen to focus attention on what seems most patient-friendly and easy to understand. Your GP will be in charge of an £80bn budget for your care.

Yet it is an ideological commitment to competition on price and to a massively increased role for the private sector that is at the heart of the Tory proposals, despite their attempts to hide it.

The Health Secretary is imposing his reorganisation of the NHS, whilst blocking out an onslaught of criticism from all sides: from patient groups, professional bodies and health experts.

They have savaged the plans as high cost, high risk, a danger to the commissioning of key health services, and a costly distraction from the need to find efficiencies.

Indeed, you know you are in trouble when even the Tory-led Health Select Committee is criticising the plans, saying they are unlikely to improve patient care. 3 out of 4 doctors do not want the changes, and do not believe they will improve patient care.

So where do we stand?

The outcry over the proposal to transfer all of the nation’s woodlands out of public control led to a rapid reverse from ministers earlier this week, in a move which was described as “humiliating” for the government. It shows that campaigning really can make a difference. However, the planned NHS reorganisation may well be greeted with an even greater response from voters.

A wave of protest – from patients, nurses and now even GPs – is rising across the country.

Patients aren’t asking for it.

GPs and NHS staff don’t want it.

The public did not vote for it.

It is wrong for patients. It is wrong for our NHS. It is wrong for Britain.

So my message to Labour activists, LabourList readers, bloggers and tweeters is this. Labour must oppose these plans, and we have no greater resource than you. I remember the ‘We Love The NHS’ campaign with both affection and awe – but if only we had known then, what we are only just starting to realise now.

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