Fighting to save the NHS

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Fighting to save the NHS

by Vanessa Baird


Campaigners from 38 Degrees deliver a petition of over 410,000 names to the Department of Health. (38 Degrees under a Creative Commons Licence)

‘The National Health Service will last as long as there are people with faith to fight for it,’ said the person who started it, Aneurin Bevan.

50,000 people protested in Manchester at the weekend against the Coalition government’s plans to break up and sell off the best public health service in the world. They showed a lot of faith and fight.

People wore ‘I love the NHS’ t-shirts. They held boards saying ‘No cuts: hands off the NHS’. They shouted ‘Tory scum’. The message was very clear to Conservatives coming for their annual conference in the city.

Police said the peaceful march and rally was the biggest protest ever in the city – bigger than the organizers (mostly trade unions) had hoped. There were three times more protesters than Conservatives.

It had to be a big protest. The Conservative-LibDem coalition government continue to break up the health service so that the parts that make a profit can be sold to private companies.

Many national health hospitals are already managed by private companies such as Virgin Care, Serco, United Health and Circle Health. Billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Care runs more than 279 NHS services including Deep Park Medical Centre in Witney – prime minister David Cameron’s constituency.

Selling the public health system was not part of any election manifesto. No-one has voted for it. ‘The Tories did not win the election, and they were not brave enough to ask the people about their privatization of the NHS,’ said journalist, activist and People’s Assembly supporter, Owen Jones. But the selling has been so secret, people have not noticed.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said we should not lose hope. ‘No more cynicism, no more pessimism. We’ve got to believe that we can stop them and stay united. Because together we will win,’ she said.

And there have been some very good victories. Government planned to close emergency services at a hospital in Lewisham, London, but they had to change their plans after a well-organized campaign of local people and health workers. They took legal action against the government and won earlier this year. That campaign is now helping others.

People came from all over the country – including Northern Ireland – to march with the many protesters and banners. Activists from the National Health Action party took a coffin with the words ‘NHS – RIP’ to the front of the Conservative party conference and left it there. This party hopes to have 50 candidates in the next election.

Most parliamentary parties (except the Greens) have failed badly to defend the NHS from privatization. The former Labour government and its policies helped to make privatization easier.

But at the protest on Sunday’s, shadow (Labour) health secretary Andy Burnham disagreed with what Labour had said before and promised to reverse the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 if Labour came to power in 2015. Many people will be interested in what happens to this promise.

Medical companies have lobbied (tried to persuade) the government a lot in recent years. About 25 per cent of members of parliament have connections with companies related to the private health sector.

And there are stories in the media that the national health system has so many problems that it needs to be private. But an international 2012 survey of citizens in 14 rich countries found that the British citizens in the survey (92 per cent) were most confident that their system was effective.

The government wants a private health model like the US. In the US, the number of deaths that could be avoided are 40 per cent higher than the European average. And the cost of health per person is the highest in the world.

Where does all the money go? The five US health insurance companies (with $12.2 billion profit in 2009) could give us an answer. ‘If you ask America for advice on how to run a health service, this is like asking the mafia for advice on crime prevention,’ Andy Burnham says.

In Britain too, there is a story about where the money goes. Keep Our NHS Public Campaign says that the company Circle Health has given the Conservative party £1.4 million in donations. In return, the Conservatives gave them a £1.2 billion agreement to run a hospital for 10 years – paid for by the British taxpayer.

Find out more about how the NHS is being sold to private companies:

The Green Benches

False Economy

38 Degrees

We own it

And what to do about it:

Keep Our NHS Public

National health Action Party

NHS Support Federation

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: