The neo-liberal assualt on the National Health Service…
Today the focus is on Andrew Lansley’s butchery of the NHS. All the usual phrases about ‘increasing choice’ and ‘reducing inefficiency’ will be trotted in a lame attempt to conceal the fragmentation and privatisation of our National Health Service.
The idea that, for example, credit ratings agencies should ‘vet’ hospitals is abhorrent and upto 49% of beds in NHS hospitals could also be made available to private patients. This is a scandal for both us and them; because they will be drawing on resources they pay tax to subsidise and paying their private provider they will, in-effect, be paying for their healthcare twice over. This reform exploits those who can pay and damages the healthcare of those that can’t.
It is, however, part of the neo-liberal ideological assault on the state and more specifically its role within the economic sphere. The ideologues of austerity blamed state spending for the current crisis deliberately to justify the cannibalisation of the services it provides. This is being done to bolster flagging profit margins in the private sector which is feeling distinctly poorly after coming down from its credit-binge fuelled high. The theory goes that the complete marketisation of the state sector return the system to profitability and in the meantime it will also prop up the sickly finance sector. Of course, this has long been the goal of people who think the rule of financial markets should extend into every sphere of our lives and see the notion of state guarantees as a threat to what they see as the natural order of things; the strong prosper and the weak starve. So, we have been heading along this road for a long time but the current crisis has accelerated the pace of change.
This is a faulty theory however, the state plays such a large role in our economic life that reducing its role will, through decreased consumption and growing mountains of debt, damage the private sector badly. We are already seeing that in depressed retail figures, job losses etc. Reform to the NHS directly will see a sicker population and therefore more days lost to the economy through sickness. Right-wing ideologues are doing their best to play-off the economic expediency against social and moral imperative but the left must insist that the most economically expeditious policies are also the most socially just ones and resist the self-harming austerity agenda.
For sure, we would be in favour of measures that genuinely empowered patients and workers within the NHS while insisting that free healthcare be provided at the point of use for all. Such measures would require the government do the heavy financial lifting which this government is not doing – it is, in real terms, cutting NHS funding despite its pledge that the NHS was ‘safe in its hands’. Lansley’s bill should be canned entirely and it is heartening that for once, Labour is taking the correct approach in its call to ‘Drop the Bill’. The NHS is a national treasure, something we can be proud of, yet it seems that not even it is safe from this asset stripping government.