The New Worker
The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 6th June 2008
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PRIVATE THREAT TO ‘FAILING’ HOSPITALS
by Daphne Liddle
HEALTH Secretary Alan Johnson announced last Wednesday that the
Government is planning to privatise the management of NHS hospitals
that are deemed to be failing.
Companies like Boots or BUPA would be given contracts to improve
standards of service, reduce superbug infection rates, cut waiting
lists and improve financial management.
Department of Health figures show the bottom 30 of the 240 trusts
in England are responsible for 46 per cent of MRSA cases.
Hinchingbrooke hospital in Cambridgeshire is expected to be the
first to be taken over by a private health company. Another 20 will be
warned to improve or have their management replaced by staff from
private health firms.
The Government plans to introduce new strict criteria on these
points in October and hospitals that fail to meet them will be given an
improvement plan. If they fail to comply then an outside management
team will be brought in.
That team may be from within the NHS but may also be a private
company. Junior Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said that there may
be examples where no NHS hospital is interested in taking over a
failing hospital, or where local NHS managers think that “in order to
have more competition and choice for people locally that bringing in a
private manager on a franchise arrangement will be the most sensible
“Our experience is that when you bring in, not just the private
sector, but the voluntary sector, you can help drive up standards in
local health areas.”
This is similar to the policy the Government has operated against
schools that are deemed to be failing for many years now and has
significantly failed to improve school performances in most cases
because the reasons for failure are deep and complex and not
necessarily related to poor management. This same is true for hospitals.
Johnson promised that staff would keep their NHS wages and conditions
and that no NHS material assets would be transferred into private
hands. But many NHS buildings and the land they stand on are already
owned by PFI companies under contracts that are kept secret for
commercial confidentiality reasons.
NHS foundation trusts have been beset by financial problems from
their outset in the early 90s – having to buy the hospitals on a
mortgage from the Government, being pressured into financially
disastrous PFI contracts and having the Government divert a lot of
their routine operations and procedures – a mainstay of their planned
income – to private sector hospitals and clinics.
Health campaigners are outraged by the proposals, seeing the plan
as a big step forward in the gradual privatisation of the NHS and very
bad new for Labour’s electoral prospects.
Geoff Martin, of Health Emergency, said: “The Government is
selling hospital franchises as if they were Kentucky Fried Chicken
“The suicide mission to alienate core supporters takes another
leap with this effort to privatise the NHS. This is something that even
Maggie Thatcher would have balked at.”
He added: “The big American health corporations will be scenting
blood and the opportunity to make a killing on the UK’s NHS hospital
wards. There will one almighty row about this.”
The British Medical Association said it had “grave concerns”
about the plans and warned the scheme amounted effectively to
privatising parts of the NHS and could lead to “fragmentation” within
the health service.
Professor Allyson Pollock, head of the Centre for International
Public Health Policy at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Bringing
private management in will simply accelerate the process of
privatisation of services which will have catastrophic effects for the
patients and the public at large.
“It will mean less care for everyone, and more money for profits
And Nigel Edwards, of the NHS Confederation, said the Government
had tried drafting in private sector management unsuccessfully before –
at the Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield in 2003.
“What it revealed is that the reason that hospitals tend to fail
is often much more complicated and much more difficult than just poor
He added: “It seems to me that this is treating a symptom, rather
than actually getting to the source of the disease.”
A worker’s place
THE BBC last week published
the results of a survey showing that 79 per cent of people in Britain
think they have just spent the last decade “buying into an unrealistic
property dream”. We know that survey takers can come up with almost any
result they like by the way they frame their questions but these
results are very worrying.
Workers are being given the message that it is unrealistic for them to
expect to be able to afford a secure roof over their heads. This is a
very big change from a couple of decades ago when the Thatcher
government was crowing about Britain being a “property-owning
This was the spin behind selling off most of Britain’s stock of
council homes – at first to tenants and later to private housing
associations and property companies. Workers were encouraged to put
themselves deep in debt to attain, after many years of paying serious
interest rates to banks and building societies, the dream goal of
owning their own home and being able to pass it on to the next
Since then the personal debt levels of workers have steadily
grown and along with them working hours, exhaustion as the physical and
mental health of overtired and over stressed workers has declined.
During that period house prices have risen phenomenally – in the
early 80s a suburban three-bedroom semi-detached would fetch about
£40,000; now that same house would fetch around £300,000 to
£400,000. The house prices have risen because after the supply of
council housing dried up, workers did not have much option if they
wanted a permanent and secure home.
The only other choices were to rent from housing associations –
whose policies were governed by the banks that supported them – or the
private rented sector. In either case secure tenancies were not on
offer; rents were rising along with house prices and few of the
properties available were suitable for families with children.
Everyone who could possibly stretch their income enough to take
on a mortgage did so, hoping that after a few years inflation would see
their wages and the value of the house rise relative to the huge
The housing crash of the early 90s interrupted this process for a
few years and many mortgage payers – including lots who had bought
their own council homes – were left with negative equity, mortgage
debts that exceeded the value of their homes.
But house prices soon took off again and, under the policies of
Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor, the dream of home-owning was once
again driving up house prices at record rates.
But the ruling class never seriously meant for workers to be able
to become property owners. The first device they used to get the
properties back was to force those who were elderly and in ill-health
to be forced to sell their homes to pay for care in residential care
Now the great America sub-prime crash has come, followed by the
British sub-prime crash and the credit crunch and the return of
negative equity. They had to come; all that consumer debt was
Government policy to keep the markets alive but it couldn’t last. There
is a limit to the hours workers can physically work and the level of
debt they can repay.
Now they have worked themselves into exhaustion, the ruling class
is telling them they were foolish and unrealistic ever to imagine that
they could buy a home for themselves. Where are they to live now, if
their homes are repossessed? In insecure privately rented accommodation
or on the streets – no way to bring up a family.
The ruling class also knew that buying a property and paying a
mortgage kept workers comparatively docile. Karl Marx said: “Workers of
the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains”. But those
buying into the “property owning democracy” imagined they did have
something to lose. It was a culture that tended to undermine trade
unionism and solidarity.
But the “property-owning” has turned out to be a false dream,
while the mortgage chains are very real. There is no security of either
jobs or homes under capitalism. Now that people are waking up to the
reality that they really do have nothing to lose but their chains,
there is a good chance they will at last find their proper place –
shoulder to shoulder with their fellow workers in the class struggle.
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