Saving the NHS: Planning our fightback

Few people know that the North West of England can proudly lay claim to be the conception point of our NHS. It was here at the 1934 Labour Party Conference that the party accepted a paper on the creation of a National Health Service by Labour politician, surgeon and founding President of the Socialist Health Association, Somerville Hastings. He was a primary mover in the fight for the NHS from the mid-1930s, and we in the SHA today remain steadfast supporters of the values on which the NHS was founded, the values of the welfare state and the values of Summerville Hastings.

Sommerville Hastings spoke to the Labour programme For Socialism and Peace, at the Labour Party Conference 1934.

This committed the party to the establishment of a State Health Service

To quote the programme:  “Labour proposes to utilise medical discovery to the full in the service of the nation. Labour’s general aim is to provide eventually domiciliary and institutional care to the community as a whole—a State Health Service evolving round a system of up-to-date clinics, with provision for specialist and other forms of treatment. Individual poverty must not be a barrier to the best that medical science can provide.”

70 years on the public are told the NHS is struggling by the Tories and right-leaning think tanks with high media profiles.  We believe that this has nothing to do with our ageing population, nor with the costs of drugs and medical technology as they claim.  A wealthy country like the UK can afford to provide a good health and care service. Like the USA it is increasingly choosing not to. The populace has been trained for decades to think of the economy like children pleading for pocket money for a puppy and being refused as the money is needed (by sensible adults) to put a meal on the table. The evidence shows it is not like that, but far more sophisticated. Money spent on health and care, and on decent terms, training and conditions for staff is money going into, and building, the economy.  It makes more than it spends when looking at the wider picture.

The attack is ideological. Conservatives are using the smokescreen of austerity to form their all-out attack on Labour’s welfare state of which the NHS was the jewel in the crown. Their manoeuvres are, by means of cuts, fragmentation rationing and privatisation. Deficits were artificially engineered, and operations like cataracts, and joint replacements denied. The NHS was split into 44 corporate Integrated Care Systems, and poorer areas have had their funding for health diverted to richer ones – with worse, much worse, to follow.  Watch this space!!!  The NHS is fragmented and no longer national.

And as far as privatisation is concerned, the NHS is now a logo behind which you may unknowingly be using a service contracted out to Virgin or SpecSavers. The whole system is devised and often managed by transnational corporations like McKinsey, Capita and KPMG. As a result of this covert “cultural revolution” billions are wasted on the transaction costs of the Tory NHS market and on the business infrastructure necessary to maintain it. Meanwhile, chronic disease sufferers, older people and maternity patients especially are being enticed to adopt personal health budgets to undermine public sector NHS funding in preparation for linking with health insurance co-payments (for those who can afford them).

Until very recently Labour lacked the political courage to challenge the neoliberal takeover of our NHS. That is until 2017 when the SHA motion to renationalise the NHS was adopted as official Party policy.  The SHA has been at the forefront of the fightback.  We support campaigning organisations in any way we can, but as a think tank, our job is to sweat over the minutiae of the structures by which a socialist government could implement the return of the NHS as a truly world class nationwide system, free at the point of use, according to need, and funded from general taxation. Many of us have a vision that Care also could be nationalised, to fully support our most vulnerable citizens, without milking them of their hard-earned savings and possessions, and with the risks truly spread, like the NHS, via general taxation. It makes financial good sense, as well as being more humane and ethical. Our people deserve no less. It may be a simple sounding vision, but it will need a great deal of thought, hard work and dedication to implement, given the dreadful state of the care system, the increasingly fractured and struggling NHS and the entangled vested interests of privateers and ideologues.

We in the SHA have thousands of people who are experts in their own right as members and supporters, and we encourage them to engage as we work to refine the socialist vision, identify the barriers, and offer detailed and practical solutions to overcome them.  As a long-established part of the Labour movement, we have been meeting regularly with the Shadow Health Team. SHA policies, if they are to be utilised like the vision of Somerville Hastings to build a new and improved NHS which works for the many not the few, will need courage, boldness, hard work from a future labour Shadow Health Team,   and a Secretary of State , who will take full responsibility, and who has the heart to put people, patients and the staff who support them, first. It will also need funding, funding which cannot be allowed to line the pockets of the greedy and unscrupulous.At last year’s Labour conference, we broke through the barrier against NHS renationalisation.

The composite NHS motion, originally drafted by the Socialist Health Association (SHA) and proposed by SHA Chair Alex Scott-Samuel, made it clear that the whole health system is being opened up to corporate interests; This motion committed Labour to actively opposing NHS England’s 5 Year Forward View plan and its accountable (now integrated) care systems. On June 27, Eleanor Smith MP, who has supported our president Professor Allyson Pollock, and Peter Roderick’s NHS Reinstatement Bill, together with Shadow Health secretary Jon Ashworth, signed the NHS Takeback Pledge which is directly derived from the Reinstatement Bill. Labour has aligned itself with the voice of the people.  The SHA has played no small part in this.  We must be vigilant and ensure there is no backtracking or fudging from this commitment.

The SHA believes the fight for the NHS and the soul of our country is between democracy and corporate power. The Socialist Health Association continues to fight for democracy.  We believe that healthcare is a human right, and everyone, regardless of income, class, creed or ethnicity, mental or and physical ability or sexual orientation has a right to access the best quality of healthcare and care. The pooling and sharing of risk on a national basis liberates us from fear of illness. Before the NHS, illness and pregnancy could lead inexorably to poverty, starvation and death. The NHS defined our nation as civilized and caring and has given us 70 years of freedom from fear. We must all work together, as individuals and organisations, to ensure that our children and grandchildren enjoy this same freedom.

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One Comment

  1. I find the term “cultural revolution” to be highly misleading in the context of British healthcare- most young people at The World Transformed would be unfamiliar with the finer points of Maoist doctrine. The Tories have the policies which you describe, but there is nothing revolutionary about them. The Labour Party in office embraced key aspects of neoliberalism, so the NHS has collapsed in a gradual manner. I have heard other health campaigners use the term “cultural revolution” and I think it confuses matters- the Cultural Revolution was an attempt to have a revolution against bureaucracy in what was thought of as a socialist country- it went tragically wrong but it has nothing to do with what is happening in ubercapitalist England.

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