Thank you to everyone taking part in the NHS vigils taking place tonight, either at one of the locations around the country here: http://eoin-clarke.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/announcing-20-local-demonstrations.html or for those who may struggle to get to street events due to disability, illness, caring responsibilities or other commitments, online here: http://www.facebook.com/events/342622435784592/342638762449626/
Like everyone, I have a lot of stories I could tell about what the NHS has done for me. It saved my life when I had meningitis when I was only a few months old, it delivered my two children safely by C-Section, it got my daughter through severe reflux that saw her weight plummet down the scales as a baby and saved her life when her airways started to close up when she had severe croup at a few months old. My partner is currently training as a mental health nurse thanks to the NHS and he is finding the job more challenging but also more rewarding than anything else he has ever done in his life.
We are nearing the last stages of legislation, which for many is an enormous blow, but it is crucial that we do not give up the fight at this stage. As of yet, the government still refuse to release the Risk Register, but the medical professional bodies have been resounding in their rejection of the bill and in highlighting what they perceive the risks to be. I believe that while many of us are horrified at the consequences of the bill going through, the combination of the density of amendments, genuine confusion over what the changes will actually be, and a lack of compreshenion of the dramatic impact changes will have for health care for normal people, mean we still have a lot of people to win over. If people really understood what was ahead of them there would be a national rebellion: it is our job to make people understand what is ahead.
Firstly, there are grave concerns that a move towards competition instead of collaboration will be disastrous for anyone with complex needs, as the supportive structure of services working together for effective provision is stripped away. Examples of people with complex needs who may be most vulnerable could include those with mental health issues, or children with severe learning disabilities. The BPS (British Psychological Society) statement which reviews this issue in detail is here: http://www.bps.org.uk/news/society-statement-health-and-social-care-bill.
Secondly, there are concerns over what will happen for those with conditions which involve difficult and expensive to treat conditions, which will now be neglected as private companies cherry pick the simpler and cheaper services which generate the best profits. An example of a difficult or expensive to treat condition could include after care for those who have suffered from a stroke. This issue, along with the likelihood that commissioning groups may choose to only pay for basic services, with other very needed services only available at a cost to the service user, is discussed by health professionals in this video here: http://vimeo.com/38505839?utm_source=Allyson+Pollock+newsletter&utm_campaign=c9855c1783-House_o
Thirdly, there are concerns as to how accountable private health care providers will be. Firstly, the track record for private health care providers suggests there will be a massive drop in standards as a result of their general standard of care (examples of their poor track record here include the travesty of the abuse taking place in care homes, or Bupa, who have recently been in court for neglect as a result of putting profits and cost cutting ahead of care – see here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9149296/Bupa-put-profit-first-at-filthy-and-understaffed-care-home-says-judge.html). Secondly, history suggests that when private health care providers mess up, they leave the taxpayer to pay for their mistakes: an example of this would be the huge bill the NHS has faced putting right the toxic breast implants used by private companies who then refused to do the necessary work removing or replacing the implants: (see here: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/now-7000-more-women-drawn-into-toxic-breast-implant-scandal-7574535.html ). It is my belief that these incidents prove the innate incompatability between “competition” and “care” – care will only ever be the second (at best) priority after profit in a privatised health service, and this will be at great cost for the public, both in terms of the extent to which private companies will now profit from the tax payer, and in terms of the loss of care.
Fourthly, there are big problems with the democratic processes surrounding the bill. If we move on from the issue that there is no electoral mandate for the changes that are being proposed, and that the majority of the public do not want the bill or the changes that it introduced, there is still the issue of what the many representatives involved in the decision making process stand to gain from the opening up of the NHS to private providers. Dr Eoin Clarke has shown that there have been 333 donations, totalling 8.3 million pounds, to the conservative party from private health care sources (http://eoin-clarke.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/333-donations-from-private-healthcare.html). Additionally, Social Investigations have shown the devastating extent to which the peers and MPs voting the changes through are interlinked with private healthcare firms: http://socialinvestigations.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/nhs-privatisation-compilation-of.html. This is not an impartial vote from disinterested parties by any stretch of the imagination
Lastly, there are clear signs that opening up the health service to private providers is laying the ground work for a future in which health care is modelled on a US-style insurance system – a system where from birth onwards, money is the key decider on if care is given, and the quality of care; a system where people get the medication they can afford and nothing better; a system where political groups cheer the call to leave the sick to die if they cannot pay their insurance; a system where I personally know of instances when mothers have hovered over calling for assistance when they go into labour in case it turns out to be false labour the costs are too high: is this the care we want for British mothers, or the start in life we want for British babies? The main coalition may be denying this possibility as the actual plan for where the NHS is going, but they haven’t managed to keep all of their members mouths shut: http://nhsalert.org.uk/news/entry/letwin-nhs-will-not-exist-under-tories/.
We know all of this. We’re terrified, and we’re feeling helpless as the legislation looks like reaching closure. But it is time to remember that legislation is not the only battle ground. If the public fight hard enough, we can overturn it – the poll tax is evidence of that. Right now most of the public are anxious but they are not fully aware of what lies ahead of them. Our job is to tell them, before it is too late. We can win this.