From the TUC

The NHS descends into more chaos

09 Mar 2013, By Guest

Mosaic made by NHS supporters to protest 2012's Health and Social Care Bill

Just weeks before the new ConDem NHS is due to be launched (1 April, when the new system from last year’s Health and Social Care Act comes into force), the government has been caught trying to drive NHS privatisation through back door. David Cameron’s vision is of an enormous and complex private health care market operating under the logo of our beloved NHS.

Having managed to ignore patients and health professionals for 3 years, following their promise not to re-organise the NHS, the government have now been forced to backtrack over regulations designed to complete the privatisation project. We’re still waiting to see what they want to put in its place. Campaigners’ worst fears have come true as the biggest reorganisation in the NHS’ 65 year history is leaving the health service in a shambolic state of disarray.

Buried in the mysteries of parliamentary processes, the government tried to slip through regulations which would result in the whole NHS being put out to competition from the private sector (like the cleaning contracts under Margaret Thatcher’s government). Clinical services would then be left to the freedom of the market to determine who would deliver what, if at all.

Going far beyond the provisions of the Health and Social Care Act (2012) for England, the regulations also contradicted the many promises made to Parliament by Lib Dem and Tory politicians, who defended their actions last year in the name of patient choice.

Trade unionists, Labour politicians and NHS campaigners gasped in horror as they saw the regulations emerge, but their response was swift. With in depth analysis, legal opinions, thousands of letters to a Lords’ committee clerk who nobody had probably written to before, and campaigns mobilising over 200,000 people in a matter of hours, time for a debate in the House of Lords was secured, and pressure brought in the Commons.

The government have been caught red handed, and red faced, and have had to withdraw the regulations, pending a redraft. Another ‘pause’ in the journey of the ConDems’ health reforms has provided space for NHS patients and professionals to speak in unity once more.

Professor Terence Stephenson, the Chair of the Royal Medical Colleges Academy expressed the real fear of professionals about how the fragmented model of care would disrupt smooth pathways of healthcare services:

“Children and adults with complex serious diseases need a joined-up service. We’re very keen that that shouldn’t be just like buying a mobile phone. When you are dealing with very complex things, like transferring patients with complex heart surgery from one part of the country to the other, they need post-operative care and rehabilitation. That all has to be joined up. If you have a private provider just offering to do one bit of that, we’re very worried that the service won’t be joined up, that medical records won’t be open to everyone and there won’t be joint accountability.”

His concern is echoed by more than a million people working in the NHS, the people who know how to save our lives, and who know that the ConDem’s policy is nothing but a disaster for the future of the NHS.

On 1 April, the new marketised NHS will come into force, but with the regulations still awaiting redrafting, it will now have no rules to govern how all this new competition should work. The worst fears of the NHS reforms are being realised as the NHS is standing on the edge of melt down.

Just weeks after the Francis Report warned of the need to put patient safety first, the government’s insatiable longing for private capital to be made out of the public purse has yet again proved that patient care is really not at the heart of their NHS.

We’re expecting to see the new draft of the regulations soon, and potentially with very little time for scrutiny. After last time’s sham of a ‘listening exercise’, we can’t afford to be complacent that any of the promised changes will actually materialise.

But it is our NHS and we must keep believing in Bevan’s words, “The NHS will survive as long as there are folk with the faith to fight for it”. We have just won a major battle. Have faith, we can win our NHS back.

GUEST POST: Rachael Maskell is Head of Health at the trade union Unite