New Labour’s suicidal plan to privatise English NHS hospitals

Yes, really.

Ben Bradshaw is talking of “franchising out” hospitals that are “failing”. But only in England, mind.

The general secretary of the GMB, Paul Kenny, said in reaction:

“This announcement shows that New Labour seems on a death wish and is totally out of touch with the needs and wishes of ordinary people in this country. In the very week that Bradford and Bingley has nearly gone belly up, the Government has the cheek to try to bring private sector dogma to the NHS. The GMB will resist this move with every sinew.”

As Unison’s senior national officer Mike Jackson commented:

“It is wrong to suggest that the NHS would be managed more efficiently by the private sector. There is a strong public service ethos in the NHS which would be severely damaged by bringing in private management.”

The government’s plan for polyclinics has been criticised by the King’s Fund. Under these proposals, public healthcare would be centralised – the better for private companies to take over chunks of the NHS. The only problem is that the quality of healthcare will suffer and costs will increase.

The Morning Star editorialises:

Kamikaze instincts
(Wednesday 04 June 2008)

NO matter how hard the trade unions fight to try to push the government in a new, more positive direction, new Labour’s neoliberal zealots seem to have the survival instincts of a kamikaze pilot.

Health Minister Ben Bradshaw declares triumphantly that the private sector “can bring competition” to the NHS, as though he has just discovered fire.

No-one doubts that the private sector brings competition wherever it goes.

But where health professionals, NHS staff, patients, socialists and trade unionists take issue with Mr Bradshaw is over the desirability of introducing competition and the profit motive into our publicly owned health service.

And make no mistake, competition and the profit motive are as closely linked as imperialism and war or as new Labour arrogance and electoral oblivion.

The Blair and Brown governments have set aside billions of pounds, especially in the early years, for investment in the NHS.

But, whereas this finance has had some effect on waiting lists, too much of it has been siphoned off into the pockets of private shareholders, either through profits-guaranteed private finance initiative schemes or equally scandalous profits-guaranteed independent sector treatment centres.

These centres have been a drain on the NHS, with huge amounts of money squandered on setting them up, cash that could have been invested directly in the service.

Far from being examples of efficiency, they benefit from pre-paid bulk NHS contracts, with inbuilt profits and no provision for refund even if the contracted number of operations is not fulfilled.

It beggars belief that, with the experience of recent years, the Brown government remains wedded to the neoliberal dream of private-sector efficiency.

Take the rail industry, which was the last major privatisation of the sleaze-ridden John Major government. No-one now believes that it has been a success. Even pro-privatisation ideologues claim that it should have been sold off differently.

But the fact is that the government subsidy to the rail industry is around double what it was in the “bad old days” of nationalisation, while services are patchier and fares are higher.

The only people it has worked for are the private shareholders.

And the same goes for the water, gas and electricity industries. Huge profits as a result of selling off land and other resources, sacking staff and pushing up prices, while consumers complain of poor service.

The government has failed to factor in the most important principle in all of these turns to the private sector – that of public service as opposed to private profit.

As Tony Benn has remarked on many occasions, the voters are ahead of the government on this. They can see that privatisation is a modern form of the medieval obsession with alchemy.

But, instead of turning base metals into gold, the privateers turn public finance into private profits. Magic! At the same time, the private sector’s fatal attraction to the government is turning erstwhile loyal Labour voters into abstainers or even backers of other parties.

If ministers persist in their determination to disregard labour movement advice and to accelerate their madcap ride to electoral suicide, the trade union movement will have to move beyond persuasive words.

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