The National Health Service has been no stranger to privatisation in recent years, but under the current Tory reign, the process – and subsequent fallout – has intensified beyond all measure.
The NHS was founded in 1948, after the end of the Second World War, on the principle that healthcare for those who need it should be free at point of use. In the last 67 years, the NHS has expanded exponentially and, in 2014, was ranked by an international panel as the best healthcare system in the world.
According to Dr Mark Porter – the leader of the British Medical Association – this title is at risk of slipping away. With ever-tightening constraints on the NHS’ budget sent by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne – Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt – there are rising concerns of staff shortages and declines in patient care.
Interestingly, at a time of budget cuts on an eye-watering scale across the entirety of the much-revered National Health Service, another thorn sticks in the side of the healthcare system – the spiralling costs of temporary workers through agency fees. Individual hospitals sourcing temporary labour through staffing agencies is no new idea within the NHS, but, over the last decade or so, the burden has become so heavy on the system that individual hospitals are often left crippled by the combination of factors.
Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of NHS England, recently urged that the NHS must tackle escalating fees from so called ‘rip-off agencies’. A recent report commissioned to tackle the crisis found that the NHS foundation trusts in the UK spent £1.8bn on temporary staffing costs. According to Stevens, this figure is twice what the estimated cost should be, raising concerns as to the direction in which the world’s best healthcare system is currently taking.
The creeping influence of privatisation within the NHS has been identified by industry figures and politicians alike – from Ed Milliband warning of ‘creeping privatisation’ under the Tories, which could lead to a two-tier system in which healthcare becomes a paid-for commodity – only for those with means, able afford the best care.
In the same 2014 report in which the NHS was ranked the world’s leading – and free at point of use – healthcare system, one such system in which privatisation is fully integrated in every regard, is the US system. While the NHS spends an average of £2,008 per head, the US spends around £5,017. But, the added cost does not equate to better healthcare and patient satisfaction; the US healthcare system is consistently ranked as one of the most inefficient in the world.
The advice of revered philosopher and political commentator, Noam Chomsky, for all those wishing to privatise a publicly-owned entity is as follows; ‘Defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry and you hand it over to private capital.’
The news on Tuesday came that Addebrooke’s Hospital -a previously world-class teaching and research hospital – is now seriously underfunded and under serious threat from collapse. Consensus within the media and key unions, such as UNISON, points the finger at the current Conservative strategy of ‘financially starving’ the NHS, creating a micro brain-drain in which leading medical staff are forced – by draining shift patterns and low pay – to find other career alternatives.
Recent figures quoted in a study by the Today Programme on Tuesday show that there were 1644 applications to leave contracts by medical staff between Friday-Monday – with many taking positions in Canada, New Zealand and Australia – compared to an average of 20-25 applications per day.
The road towards unilateral privatisation, down which the NHS has been heading for years, has critical roadblocks in place that will slow, but not stop, the steady ebb of privatisation; the taxpayer.
A recent study in the Daily Mirror, showed a powerful inter-generational connection to the message of the NHS; over 80% of those questioned were strongly in favour of the continuation of the NHS as a free at point of use system.
So what of the NHS? Is our beloved healthcare system, now celebrating its 67th year, facing total privatisation, wing by wing, hospital by hospital? As we see progressive budget cuts, staff walkouts due to exorbitant pressures to meet an endless array of government-backed goals and targets, is this creeping privatisation at it’s most sinister?
The question remains – if the NHS continues down this road, will there be a two-tier partially privatised healthcare system in the UK by 2020? Can decades-worth of privatisation be reversed?
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