First published in the Newcastle Journal

At this time of year political commentators like to set out what they think the major challenges ahead.  So far the main topics have been the European Elections, The Chilcott Enquiry into the Iraq War, which is due to report in the summer, and the Scottish Referendum on Scottish Independence.

I want to add a fourth.  The future of the NHS, since this year may well be a tipping point as to whether we still have something we can recognise as an NHS at all.

In this country we have been blessed with two national institutions which, although not perfect, have stood the test of time.  I am referring to the BBC and the NHS.  These are admired around the world. Both were set up in different times and I doubt if they could be set up now since the power of commercial interests is so great. Look at the ferocious opposition Obama has encountered.  But most people like them, and are willing to pay to keep them.  They are institutions which bind us together, in which we all share.

I am not saying they are perfect, and when they do not deliver they must be called to account.  But on the whole they do deliver.  Despite its failings, the majority of people still report satisfaction with the NHS, and I note that the BBC scored the highest ratings for terrestrial television over Christmas. Its journalists are respected all over the world and it gives space to many different points of view.

But there appears to be one man who is not part of this consensus – Jeremy Hunt.  He does not like big state-run bodies, and prefers privately run ones. He wanted the BBC reduced in scope, and now seems hell-bent on privatising the NHS.  We all know that it is better to judge people by what they do rather than what they say.  When he was Secretary of State for Culture Jeremy Hunt did his best to encourage Murdoch’s Sky Corporation to achieve a dominant position in British Broadcasting. He was  known as the “Minister for Murdoch”.  What stopped him were the failings of the Murdoch empire, exposed by other journalists. Despite the various attacks on it, and reduction of its funding, the BBC seems to be thriving.

But one reverse hasn’t dimmed Jeremy Hunt’s enthusiasm for privatisation.  The public are perhaps not aware that a major programme of privatisation in the NHS is due to go ahead this year.  I am referring to the putting of the Commissioning Support Units out to tender.  These are a major part of the NHS administration which sort out the various commissioning intentions of the Clinical Commissioning Groups and arrange for services to be delivered.

At the moment they are just about getting themselves sorted out after the last reorganisation.  Many people fear that if private organisations take them over they will then favour private providers over NHS ones to deliver health  services. As Mr Hunt is no doubt aware this could lead to a major increase in private sector involvement in the NHS.

I would be the first to admit that there are aspects of the NHS which need improvement, but the public are probably not aware of the tremendous efforts currently being made to improve efficiency and “transform” services to make them more effective.  The NHS has two qualities which are difficult to quantify.  One is a genuine ethic of public service which motivates many of the staff.  The other is a coherence, an sense of unity.  Making it a market based organisation and splitting it all up between different contractors whose aim is to make profits will destroy both of these.

I hope I am wrong.  Many predictions  are.  But we need an honest debate about the NHS and Jeremy Hunt should say what he really thinks and then listen to the debate. I doubt if he would get much support.

David Taylor-Gooby is a free lance writer.  His latest book, “Reclaiming the Big Society” is available from the publisher, Searching Finance”

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One Comment

  1. The question needs to be asked, what is driving this privatisation mania?

    Why do we allow this sort of corruption into our health service? Link:
    http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2003/June/03_civ_386.htm

    The private sector is failing, why are we being told that they are the best option to run public services?

    How much further do we have to fall before the penny drops?

    I have been involved with local groups campaigning to save the NHS from this madness, during that time we have been meeting ambulance crews who are frightened to speak out publicly about the destruction of the service that they previously supplied.

    There has been collusion by the media as a whole to black out or distort what is actually happening, I have been personally turned away at the door of our local BBC radio station, which was pre-arranged that we would speak about our campaign on a Sunday evening at 8pm, to a very small Caribbean listening audience about what was happening to the NHS locally. Only to be turned away by the interviewer saying that his bosses had not sanctioned the programme and therefore it could not go on.

    What I also fail to understand is, in this the 21st century, people allow the bullying private sector to monopolise our democracy, this government and also the previous government have given away state assets to the private sector without any public mandate or debate.

    The post war Labour Party understood the failings of the private sector, created the welfare state and nationalised industries and services which were fundamental for the well being of British society. Not only was that an economic success, but the Tories reluctantly continued with it until the advent of Thatcher and the full blown Neo-Liberal onslaught.

    During the period of 50s to the 70s Britain’s economy grew by an average of 3% per annum, following the Thatcher period we have grown no bigger 1.5% down to 0.3% and actually did enter into a triple dip recession as the green benches recently showed from NOS figures.

    The time has come to defend our democracy and to take back rights that have been stolen from us, not to sit idly by waiting for a total collapse before we all unite to do the right thing.

    There is and always has been the money available to fund our public services, all economists know this so, why are they lying to us and why do we sit back and do nothing about it?

    Mike Norman Chief economist at John Thomas Financial.

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