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This election will decide whether the NHS will survive or perish

This election will decide whether the NHS will survive or perish

This piece from Dr Kailash Chand forms the forward to Class' What's at stake for the NHS? election guide, to be launched at our event in Manchester on Thursday 5 March.

In 2010 David Cameron’s Coalition Government betrayed pre-election promises to protect the NHS. Instead they imposed savage spending cuts and pushed through ‘reforms’ which put at risk the health of the entire population. As a result the NHS is now at the brink of extinction. The public has been misled about the objectives and consequences of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act.

But the Coalition’s repeated denials of NHS privatisation do not stand up to scrutiny. Aneurin Bevan once said: “No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of a lack of means”. The 2012 Act has not just repealed society’s contract with the health service, it has put the NHS on the chopping block, ready to be sold in pieces to private corporations.

Privatisation is an ideological luxury which wastes money and destabilises the NHS. It has no purpose other than diverting money to shareholders and enriching a privileged few. We all know people should always come before profit, but the current government thinks otherwise. In the past two years, £11 billion worth of our NHS has been put up for sale, while 35,000 staff have been axed, including 5,600 nurses. Half of our 600 ambulance stations are earmarked for closure. One-third of NHS walk-in centres have been closed and 10% of A&E units have been shut. Waiting lists for operations are at their longest in years as hospitals are consumed by the crisis in A&E.

The Coalition’s policies and privatisation mean the NHS as we know it will be gone in as little as five years if no one speaks up. The NHS will just be a logo; reduced from being the main provider of health services in England with one of the biggest workforces in the world, to a US-style insurance scheme, divorced from the delivery of care. Fewer treatments will be available as cuts start to bite.

The ‘new’ NHS is now more fragmented than ever before. It has no primacy over provision, and money is squandered over lost causes such as procurement of contracts and fighting competition from within. There has been a proliferation of small and large providers in the NHS in the last two or three years and the other winners in this revolutionary reform are management consultants.

The proliferation of private service providers spells serious problems for the future. For while the public sector seeks to maximise quality and coverage of services, the private sector aims to provide services in order to maximise profits. Private sector providers want to de-professionalise and down-skill the practice of medicine in this country, so as to make staff more interchangeable, easier to fire, more biddable, and above all, cheaper.

According to Ipsos MORI, the NHS is a top-of-the-list election issue for most voters. The NHS matters, and not just to the 1.4 million people who work in it. But to the entire population of Britain. David Cameron intends to achieve what eluded all the other Tory Governments since Bevan created the country’s most cherished institution, the NHS, in 1948. Winston Churchill lost the battle to kill the NHS at birth. Thatcher was prevented by cooler heads from creating an insurance-based system. John Major attempted to suffocate the NHS by bringing in the internal market. David Cameron is fulfilling the dream of the ‘Tory right’ to privatise health care lock-stock and barrel.

The NHS has never been in a more dangerous position than it is right now. This General Election will decide whether the NHS will survive or perish. It’s time to raise the alarm about what is happening and build a campaign for change. This election will give voters a clear choice - a public, integrated NHS or a health market under David Cameron.

Register here to see our panel speak at our event in Manchester on Thursday 5 March 2015.