Tag Archives: health service

Open Letter To Harriet Harman

Jessica Ormerod and Deborah Harrington have some advice for the Labour deputy leader.

Have we really not moved on since 1953? Take one look at Harriet Harman and her pink campaign bus and you’d be forgiven for thinking we haven’t. The idea that Labour are going to sweep up the mummy vote with a pink bus and a patronising wink from Harriet as she talks woman to woman would be laughable if it weren’t so vomit-inducing.

Since the coalition stumbled into power we have all been the losers, but women and children have been hit the hardest. Labour are neither saying nor doing anything to stop the horrific effects of austerity on the most vulnerable in our society.

I can tell you, Harriet, just what keeps us women folk up at night. Like you, I live in South East London. Unlike you, my children go to the local comprehensive school and over the last few years I have seen families made homeless by the wicked austerity agenda. An agenda that your party defends. To use the patronising parlance of government, these are ‘hard-working families’ who have been turfed out of their houses because the landlord has decided to ride the property market and sell the flat, leaving families with no recourse but to pack their bags and go to the housing office. Because there is no housing stock left in Lewisham, these families are re-housed in the appalling conditions of so-called ’emergency accommodation’, often far from their jobs and their children’s schools. Mummy lies awake listening to the drug addicts and alcoholics shouting at each other in the room next door, worries about the three buses they will need to get to school the next morning, worries if she’ll even be able to get on the bus because if there’s one pushchair on there already the driver shoos you away. And anyway, everyone will have to be up at 5am in order to make the journey of 5 miles because buses are late, buses get stuck in traffic and there’s always a walk at the end with three miserable, tired children who might not have eaten because, and here’s another worry, Harriet, there’s not enough money for everyone to eat breakfast.

Women bear the brunt of plummeting household finances, they go hungry to keep their children fed, they take their children to hospital, they work zero hour contract jobs, they get beaten up by their partners and have nowhere to go…

So, Harriet, let’s talk about what women want:

Housing

Women, and especially women with children, are most affected by the unaffordability of decent homes. They are more likely to have inadequate incomes and suffer from draconian reductions in benefit. Don’t just talk about building more homes, talk about what kind of homes. Council homes at council rents sounds good. Don’t use that awful term ‘affordable’ which mostly is only marginally less affordable than current market prices. How about decent jobs in areas where homes are standing empty so people can live happy lives there?

Childcare

Don’t offer more ‘free’ hours and vouchers, these have led over the last 20 years to the cost of nursery places in England being the highest in Europe – put more money into any given area of the private sector and the prices go up (but not always the standards). Build on local council provision instead, or provide more kindergartens attached to primary schools.

Social care

Do something urgently about the drastic reductions in local authority social care budgets which hit women harder than anyone. Women already provide a lot of the care for the generations below and above them, and what support and relief they were getting has been torn away by this government.

Health

Women bear the children and also tend to look after their household’s health. If they suffer inadequate housing, low wages, failure of local provision of service, their health suffers – and then who looks after the children?

Domestic violence

Where can we take our children to be safe from abuse now that the refuges have been savagely cut?

Education

I want to send my child to a normal state comprehensive but I am faced with an array of foundation schools, academies and free schools that I don’t trust and I don’t like.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. I say, get out of your bus and get real about what is actually happening to women: to their children and their partners; to their everyday lives. Don’t tell us what we worry about – ask us and we’ll tell you.

We want a new politics. We want a healthy NHS. We want a better Britain.

We need democratic reform – urgently

Deborah Harrington gives us her view on the current two party system.

If there are only two parties which can achieve power in the current system then, even if Labour is successful in 2015, we will inevitably revert to a Tory government at a future date. And this need not even be a Tory majority – by forming a coalition with a smaller party, the Tories are willing to lever themselves into power from a minority position. Whenever they do return, they will wreak havoc on the NHS and the Welfare State. The civil service is smaller now than at any time since 1948 and the Tories have sold off 20% of all our public land and assets in the last 4 years. We are running out of things to save.

If the predictions of another market crash in the next couple of years are true and Labour is in government then, as far as the public and the Tory spin machine are concerned, Labour will be held responsible for two successive crashes. That leads to the real possibility of a Tory government being returned in 2020.

The main thrust of much of Labour’s politics at the moment appears to be ‘we’re not the Tories’. That seems to me to be an absolute argument for political reform. Give us a parliament with more Independents, more Greens, SNP and Plaid, to represent the major environmental concerns and devolution/local agenda issues. Let’s have some political presence to really represent the NHS, and Left Unity and TUSC to stand up for the working classes, the unemployed and the disabled. Let’s have a politics where voters feel they can choose the party they agree with, not just the party that ‘isn’t the Tories’.

I would like to vote for a party that has solid core principles. At the moment the Labour Party has substituted ‘compassion’ for social justice. Not the same thing at all. Until – or unless – it regains its senses I hope all left wing voters will opt for getting together behind whichever candidate genuinely best represents their views, regardless of party (although I assume Tory and UKIP are not in the running for those votes in any circumstance whatsoever!).

I shall be thinking of the future when I cast my vote this year, not just about the short term. I hope you do too.

Farage: Immigrants Made Me Late For A Meeting

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has gone as far as to blame immigration for his missing a meeting in Wales after heavy traffic on the M4. UKIP’s desperation to blame immigrants for everything gives away their only real election tactic – to create a climate of fear and capitalise on this by promising an authoritarian clamp-down on immigration and civil liberties. One can only wonder how much of UKIP’s transport policy depends solely upon reducing the migrant population.

UKIP are also doing this with the NHS:

Losses due to so-called health tourism are a fraction of one per cent of the NHS budget – a drop in the ocean of underfunding. But it’s a useful lie for UKIP – who want your vote but not to tell you about its own plans to privatise the NHS – and for the government as a smokescreen for its own failings.

The actual cost of people coming to Britain specifically for free healthcare (as opposed to falling ill or having an accident while here on holiday) is estimated to be around £70 million – which is a lot of money, but just 0.06% of the total NHS budget. So even if it the practice was wiped out completely, the NHS underfunding problems would remain. That is the truth.

If you’re waiting for your GP and a person of a different colour goes in before you its easy to think “If they weren’t here, I’d be seen sooner.” If you go to A&E and the people sitting next to you are conversing in a language you don’t understand, it’s easy to feel they must be interlopers. You’re sick, you’re stressed, you’re not thinking straight. But the politicians are thinking straight. They have the facts, they have the figures, but they’d rather play on your fears and anxieties to gain political advantage than own up to where the blame really lies.

So now the government is planning to spend more money checking up on foreign patients than it can ever hope to recover in savings. It costs the NHS, it put more pressure on practitioners, but it’s useful PR in their desperate electoral fight against UKIP. Meanwhile UKIP are rubbing their hands that focusing on immigrants stops voters noticing their preference for privatising the NHS.

“Don’t Lose Faith In The NHS”

Chris Blount looks at the narratives surrounding NHS privatisation.

I’m lucky enough to have a number of amazing, inspiring friends and relatives who work or have worked for the NHS. As anyone in this position will know, it’s tricky to meet up with such people without talk turning to their jobs. In this way I guess you could say their profession and dedication to it totally consumes them. Or to put it more positively, they really care about what they do and not just because they get paid.

Back in 2012 when the colossal £3 billion Health & Social Care Act was being proposed by Andrew Lansley, one of these friends said to me that they didn’t understand how such massive changes were needed when patient satisfaction was at an all time high just 2 years earlier, in 2010. They questioned the widely disseminated narratives in the news that were challenging the sustainability of the NHS. There were suggestions that somehow the number of old people had suddenly exploded, the cost of treatments had sky-rocketed, or that mistakes were just too prevalent in today’s NHS. This was the seed which kick-started a debate in my mind and a yearning desire to find out more.

I was struck by how contrary these narratives were when compared to the bigger picture. The ‘bloated, bureaucratic, inefficient, accident prone’ NHS was actually one of the most efficient and cost effective health systems in the world. And costs were shockingly low. According to organizations like the OECD and the WHO, the NHS cost the UK over $4,000 per head per year less than American (predominantly private) healthcare cost its citizens. In fact the NHS cost significantly less per capita than many first world healthcare systems including Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, France and Belgium. OECD figures from just a few years ago suggested the NHS was also amongst the best for efficiency, access, equity and overall quality. So what was it exactly which made the NHS so efficient and why wasn’t this reality reported?

At a time when our NHS was being cut, fragmented and gradually privatised, it was particularly striking that the private US system and part-privatised Canadian system were rock bottom of the OECD table. These health systems were also both significantly more expensive than ours. In 2009 the US spent twice what we spent as a percentage of GDP on healthcare. Despite this, they still had a shorter life expectancy, a higher infant mortality, less practicing physicians per 1,000 patients and almost 50 million people uninsured. Reportedly, the top reason for bankruptcy in the US is health bills – and keep in mind that some of those unfortunate enough to face financial ruin were undoubtedly insured. On a trip to Boston earlier this year I witnessed what appeared to be the tragic results of such failings. A homeless man, standing on a street corner holding a sign that simply read ‘I have cancer, please help’. In perhaps the richest country in the world, it’s a desperately sad state of affairs. However when you have someone over a barrel for their health, you can pretty much take what you want from them.

Since coming into power, President Obama has struggled hard against rich, influential corporations and negative advertising campaigns to implement limited improvements through the Affordable Care Act. However, more than 13% of Americans still have no cover at all and an unknown number are underinsured. Whilst the UK is still (hopefully!) some years away from this tragic scenario, we should acknowledge that this is the end game. The truth is that we’re gradually bankrupting our health service by looking for answers in the profit-seeking private sector. As the years go by we’re spending an increasing percentage of the health budget on non-clinical costs. The new CCG-led commissioning system will require more and more funds to be diverted away from care and instead spent on lawyers, managers, consultants, corporate bonuses and shareholders. This cost is increasing all the time – 1 in 10 NHS pounds is now spent on non-clinical expenses. If we’re not willing to fight for the NHS, we could ultimately end up in an American scenario where 1 in 3 dollars spent is on non-clinical costs.

Despite all this evidence, in 2012 politicians (largely backed up by sensationalist news media) suggested the NHS was unsustainable, in need of the biggest reorganisation in its history and that private companies had the answer. I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised given that Andrew Lansley, like many prominent politicians in government, was accused of being bankrolled by a private health company, Care UK. Nor should we be all that surprised that newspapers carrying private healthcare adverts are fiercely critical of the NHS. As a lean, relatively efficient public health service gradually expands into a bloated, fragmented, expensive health industry, we can expect to see more of this corporate back scratching. As the NHA has been kind enough to point out recently, we’ve been down this road before. All you really need to do is ask yourself if you’re happy with the year on year increases in energy bills, water bills and train fares which consistently out pace inflation. Energy bills have recently been rising at about three times the rate of inflation. These sizeable cost increases you pay don’t take any account of the massive multi-billion pound subsidies many of these private companies have taken directly from the government.

As costs inflate with the new market and tendering processes, the health budget will inevitably become increasingly stretched. One worry is that this will in a way fracture the public and bring about more of an every man for himself attitude. We’ll blame fat people, diabetics, drunks, drug addicts, old people or anyone who isn’t us! The press will inevitably table various ideas suggesting some people should be charged more or even be excluded from care. One of my friends currently working in the health service predicts that in a matter of years we’ll have an ‘NHS+’ system. If you don’t want to wait for 3 months for a referral or if you want better treatments, simply pay for ‘NHS+’ out of your own pocket! A premium service sold as a kind of ‘bolt on’ to your standard NHS care and a stepping stone to private insurance funded care. Personally I think with Tory led cuts currently running down the health service, people are already losing faith and skipping straight to private insurance providers. It’s critical to realise that no political party will ever propose a ‘big bang’ style, blanket privatisation of the NHS. You will get no honest or obvious signpost that it’s underway. That would be political suicide. However this kind of step-by-step gradual privatisation, combined with a deliberate running down of public confidence in the state run alternative is a more realistic concern. It is happening right now.

So let me ask this: do you have full confidence in your car and house insurance companies to cover your costs completely should you meet with disaster? Are these companies reliable enough to cover your health too? When it comes to the health of you and your loved ones, full confidence is absolutely what you would want. When it comes to the heightened costs of medical care, a cost that can sometimes come along unexpectedly, full confidence is what you may need. As with I’m sure many people reading this, there is someone in my life whom I care about very much who relies on regular help from the NHS. This relatively young person has always led a healthy lifestyle and yet would probably not get full cover if they were American. They’ve never smoked a single cigarette, never taken illegal drugs, drank alcohol only in moderation, carry a healthy body weight and have always led a varied, regular exercise routine. Despite all of this, they were unfortunately diagnosed with an illness new to the family, which requires regular treatment using very expensive medication. You see, that’s how illness works sometimes. It’s not always, as the media tells us, a proportionate punishment for being obese, drinking too much, being inactive or even being too old. Sometimes it’s purely and simply down to bad luck.

It is very telling to me that the same newspapers and politicians who vehemently champion our courageous military, will not support (and often even criticise) our health service and its workers. That to me says something profound and very sad about us. We should, without question, want to invest in and look after our sick. If we can’t find the humanity, compassion and financial support for these people in such desperate circumstances, who can we find it for? Even if they are old, fat or addicted we should want to help those in sickness. It’s what makes us human. The most cost effective way to do this is to buy healthcare as one giant collective rather than as individuals.

You might say ‘But where are we going to find the money from? It’s unaffordable!’ Leading NHS England representatives have recently estimated that the NHS needs an extra £8 billion above inflation. It does sound like a dizzying number to get your head around at first. It is of course also important to recognize that these costs will inflate over time too. However, nothing will inflate health costs like the growing involvement of the profit extracting private sector. So is it possible for this cost to be absorbed by the treasury? Last I looked there were roughly 30 million income tax payers contributing to this pot. £8 billion divided by 30 million income tax payers is less than £23 per month. That’s less than what many people spend on the relative luxury of a mobile phone contract. That £23 calculation presumes we couldn’t save any significant costs from elsewhere in the budget. It also presumes we couldn’t make anywhere near £8 billion from VAT, stamp duty, corporation tax or other revenue streams. If income tax payers took on the entire burden, that’s only £23 for an efficient, publicly owned health service with 8% more money at its disposal. That’s £23 to ensure the sustainability of a more compassionate society where people are not made homeless simply because of ill health. It’s good to have a healthy dose of perspective with our daily headline grabbing hysteria.

Currently, none of the big political parties are promising to find that £8 billion. There’s nothing unaffordable about it though. It’s simply about priorities. So next time our politicians or newspapers tell you the NHS is an unaffordable, wasteful institute or that GP’s are overpaid careerists, or that nurses are lazy and apathetic please take a moment to question them. The founder of our NHS gave us the clear warning that it would only ‘last for as long as people have the faith left to fight for it’. So you can bet those seeking its demise will go to great lengths to strip you of your faith.