The Americanisation of healthcare in England?

[Friday]

Ah, healthcare. In the US, President Bush vetoes a bill increasing funds for sick kids. Over here, we have the seemingly-harmless review of the NHS in England (note well, not Scotland or Wales) by Lord Darzi, which on the surface, might suggest we will never end up like America.

The review isn’t really finished yet, of course, and Darzi’s recent announcements have more to do with Brown’s election plans than actual healthcare policy. The devil will be in the details – hence, we’ve been given no details. Though we know that PCTs will be “permitted” – if that’s the right word – to work with US “healthcare” companies…

As I have written before, the CBI is pushing the government to part-privatise more of the health service, and this is a good sign that the Darzi review is really about selling off the NHS in England, rather than improving patient care.

I dare say that if England had a devolved government, this wouldn’t be happening. Oh yes, with a fair voting system, recallability, and citizen-initiated referenda, an English parliament would make it harder for the capitalist class to smash our public services.

In case you ain’t already seen it, here’s today’s comment from The Morning Star:

Caring for profits
(Friday 05 October 2007)
EITHER Gordon Brown has already rejected the idea of calling an early snap election or he has worked out that he can dispense with the votes of hundreds of thousands of NHS staff.

His government’s announcement that will contract out to the private sector the commissioning of primary care services is nothing less than a deliberate snub to health service professionals.

He and Health Secretary Alan Johnson have ignored the submissions of the health unions and signified once more their allegiance to big business.

Health Minister Ivan Lewis says that primary care trusts will be able to “work with organisations that are already known and trusted,” which just happen to include the giants of the US health-care system that shames the richest country in the world.

Why should the British government seek to ape a health-care model that fails so many people, especially those from working-class families?

Last year’s study by the Commonwealth Fund’s Commission on a High Performance Health System compared the US system with dozen other industrialised countries.

It found that the US has the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy for people who have reached 60 years of age.

As of two years ago, nearly 47 million US citizens, just under 16 per cent, had no health insurance and the figures have been increasing.

Because medical costs are rising at about three times the rate of wages, many employers who previously offered collective health-care schemes are trying to wriggle out of these arrangements and pass on responsibility to their staff.

No doubt Messrs Brown, Johnson and Lewis will insist that they are not proposing a carbon copy of the US system, but they are moving in that direction by allowing private medicine to dictate the course of events.

New Labour has ditched its previous dissembling rhetoric of being non-dogmatic and backing what works.

It is now utterly open about its conviction that anything the public sector can do, the private sector can do better.

It hands over massive public contracts to US health insurance companies, as well as consultancy companies, claiming that economies of scale make these firms very efficient.

What could give greater economies of scale than an integrated national enterprise such as the NHS?

The NHS does not need to privatise data analysis, purchasing policy or elective treatment to the private sector.

It has the levels of expertise necessary within its own staff, who not only have the experience to carry out these tasks but are also committed to the NHS ethos of public service rather than profit motives.

Private-sector involvement in the NHS has been an unmitigated disaster, which has sucked billions of pounds from the public purse, depressed cleaning and catering standards in hospitals and led to redundancies among dedicated professional staff.

Gordon Brown’s beloved private finance initiative schemes have laden the NHS with debt, while privateers have continued to laugh all the way to the bank.

NHS staff do not want this rehashed Tory policy. Neither the TUC nor the Labour Party conference has voted for it. So, if the government wants a future in office, it too should abandon it.

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