No to NHS charges!

by Daphne Liddle

THE PEOPLE of Britain love and treasure the NHS. In spite of all its well-publicised shortcomings everybody in the country needs its services sooner or later and the overwhelming majority have a positive experience of treatment.

And they are prepared to come out on the streets in very large numbers to defend it. No other issue has provoked such a big response in terms of protests and marches to defend the NHS as it is and its essential principle of free access to treatment as needed for all.

This is a really big problem for the extremist fundamentalist market capitalists who own and control the western world today.

We pay for the NHS through our taxes but they could make so much more profit if we also had to pay to visit our GPs or to go to hospital. And an unexploited source of profit anywhere breaks their hearts.

Their ideas dominate the main political parties: the Tories, the Liberal Democrats and the right-wing Labour leadership — though the Labour membership are a different matter. And have no doubts, Ukip would be the fastest to sell our health service to American entrepreneurs if they ever got a chance.

So the ruling class has been privatising the NHS by stealth, bit by bit, while protesting that they are improving the NHS and protecting its founding principles.

In doing do they have chained most hospitals, ambulance and other services to huge PFI debts and contracts with private healthcare providers that are draining all the funding for the NHS — and then complaining that the NHS is too expensive to continue as it is.

MPs will vote in favour of NHS cuts and the introduction of market principles in the House of Commons and at the same time they will hypocritically turn out on public protests to save their local hospital.

This contradictory behaviour shows that there is real power in the love that the working class have for the NHS and their readiness to defend it, which the MPs are afraid to provoke.

This is why the ruling class has been conducting a longterm propaganda campaign to undermine our respect for the NHS.

The Government keeps hospitals too short of funding to give the standards of care that NHS staff want to give — and we get scandals like the Mid-Staffs Hospital. Newspapers are so full of stories of people who have bad experiences with NHS care that readers get the impression that these are the norm rather than the exception.

And we regularly get someone suggesting that we should pay to visit our GPs and hospitals. Last week it was the turn of former Labour Health Minister Lord Warner and his “independent” think tank called Reform.

Warner wants us all to pay £10-a-month to use the NHS as well as £20-a-night for hospital stays — assuming that is a trivial sum that no one would miss — unless you are a family of four or five (£50-a-month) deep in debt and depending on a food bank to survive. Do we use our pittance to pay our debts, pay the rent, pay the gas bill, buy some food or pay for the NHS?

The greatest users of all these services are the elderly, the disabled and chronically sick — usually people on the lowest incomes; people with diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure, epilepsy, asthma, crohn’s disease and so on. They need to visit their GPs regularly and may end up in A&E more often than most.

Both Hunt and Reform allow there would be some means-tested exceptions for those who cannot pay. That would mean setting up a very expensive bureaucracy to check on patients’ incomes. And it would find that almost all the most frequent users of NHS services are the elderly and people with chronic conditions who would have to be exempted from charges.

It would cost the NHS more than it would save.

Unite head of health Rachael Maskell said: “Lord Warner, the co-author of the Reform report, is a stalking horse for the interests of the private healthcare companies to which he has strong links — and this should be borne in mind in any discussion of this divisive ‘membership charge’ idea. This is an unacceptable conflict of interest.

“Immediate savings could be made to the NHS by stripping out this obsession with turning the health service into a market place for private healthcare companies, when the £30 billion funding crisis is looming.”

A ComRes poll published last week in the Guardian found people in Britain overwhelmingly opposed to paying to see a GP. It found that only 27 per cent would pay £10 but 56 per cent against. The people of Britain are not daft.