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Images — Geoff Pugh & TUC

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt finally surfaced today (9th January 2017) to give answers about the growing chaos in the NHS, 2 days after the British Red Cross said that the service is in a state of “humanitarian crisis”.

Hunt has consistently dismissed the well-evidenced claims that the NHS is in turmoil, and today’s response indicates (yet again) that the Tories have absolutely no intention of repairing the damage they have done to the NHS, but rather will continue to do the opposite — to serve their long term goal of forcing the NHS into privatisation, against the will of the British people.

Commenting on the Red Cross’ deep concerns, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn demanded that Prime Minster Theresa May take immediate action, and set out an emergency plan to fix the NHS in the commons today – something which May has refused to do. Corbyn also set out his plan to save the NHS which includes putting an end to the wasteful privatisation of the service and an increase in corporation tax to fund it properly.

This weekend the British Red Cross said that the NHS faces a “humanitarian crisis” and revealed that it is relying heavily on volunteers from the charity just to cope with growing patient demand. The charity has urged the government to invest more in health and social care as they have deep concerns over patient safety and quality of care. They reported that hundreds of patients are being left stranded in corridors, with some lying on hospital trollies for over 36 hours and two patients a day are said to be dying of dehydration.

After a weekend of total absence and silence on the issue, Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt finally decided to comment on the crisis. During an interview on today’s Good Morning, Britain programme, Hunt dismissed the Red Cross’ deep concerns as being “exaggerated”. However, he did manage to thank Doctors and Nurses for their hard work.

Hunt then laid out his plan of action for the crisis:

Perhaps it would help if I told you what we were doing: We’re putting over £4 billion into the NHS, which will be our top priority, and we need to have an honest discussion with the public.

During an interview yesterday on Sky News Theresa May essentially said almost exactly the same thing — dismissing the Red Cross’ comments and talking about funding instead, as well as thanking the medical staff.

The Tories’ response to the crisis once again shows that they simply cannot be trusted with the NHS, they do not care about the patients who use it or the staff who work in it. But worse than this, they are actively trying to run the NHS into the ground so as to serve the long-term goal of full privatisation.

This tactic was clearly laid out as far back as the 1960’s, when Arthur Seldon (who would go on to become Margaret Thatcher’s Privatisation Policy Advisor) produced a pamphlet for the Institute of Economic Affairs titled “After the NHS” — in which he lays out the need to make the NHS less efficient so as to push people into seeking private treatment — and therefore build profits for the private insurance industry.

The same tactic of defunding was applied to the privatisation of the rails by Thatcher during the 1980’s. In order to privatise popular state-owned publicly run institutions, they first have to be defunded, mismanaged, at which point privatisation seems like the only solution — and therefore people are more likely to accept it as being inevitable.

Despite what Hunt claims, the NHS is being underfunded and has been since the coalition of 2010.

Anita Charlesworth, Chief Economist at the Health Foundation speaking about NHS funding said that:

The total health budget is rising by £4.5bn in real terms over the next 5 years, an increase of less than 1% a year above inflation. This means real terms health spending per person will be broadly the same at the end of this decade as it was at the start – despite the growing needs of an ageing population. The share of UK GDP devoted to publicly funded health will fall from an internationally low 7.3% in 2015/16 to just 6.7% of GDP in 2020/21.

Charlesworth also points out that certain services will not receive adequate funding – Junior Doctor training, health visiting, sexual health and vaccinations will all face a real terms reduction of 20% by 2020/21.

The Tories are not only underfunding the NHS, they are also wasting large amounts of NHS funds on privatisation based projects.

£3 Billion was spent on market-based reforms that absolutely nobody wanted, and have even been condemned by senior Tory ministers.

It is estimated that £2B a year of NHS funds are currently being spent on private companies through the completely disastrous and nonsensical Public Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme introduced by the Tory government in 1992 — but extended significantly, quite shamefully, under New Labour following the 1997 election win.

It has also been recently revealed that the NHS has spent at least £57 Million on private companies that stop GPs referring patients to hospitals.

Many private companies have already been given large amounts of taxpayer money to “provide’ NHS services. One of the largest is Virgin Healthcare who have were given £700 Million to run 200 NHS and social care services in 2016 — and since 2010 been given over £1 Billion to run NHS services. Other massive companies receiving NHS funds to run services include Capita, and Alliance Boots — each profiting from massive NHS contracts. All of which raise serious questions as to the quality of service, cost and accountability to the public.

The NHS clearly doesn’t need any more privatisation. In fact the opposite is true — privatisation is failing, and the NHS will continue to get worse until it is once again taken into full public ownership.

Once again the only mainstream politician to address the growing concerns around the NHS crisis and oppose the Tories disastrous and destructive NHS policies has been Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. His response to the Red Cross’ warning lies in stark contrast to that of Hunt and the Tories.

Addressing the issues immediately Corbyn said:

This is a national scandal – and Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt have to take both responsibility and urgent action to tackle it. I’m grateful to the Red Cross volunteers who have stepped in during this emergency, as well as the hard working NHS staff who are being let down and undermined by this government. But we should not have to rely on the Red Cross to provide the basic care the people of this country need.

And:

The fact is this government have repeatedly failed to put the necessary resources into our health service, while they have cut social care and wasted billions on a top-down reorganization to accelerate privatization. And despite finding billions of tax giveaways for big business and the richest, Theresa May’s Conservatives failed to find a single penny for the NHS in their autumn statement.Our NHS cannot survive if this government does not change course. Labour is calling on the government to cancel their tax breaks for the wealthiest and fund our NHS instead.The people of this country need an explanation for the state of emergency in our hospitals, and an account of what action will be taken to end it. The only person who can do that is the Prime Minister.

Corbyn then called on the Prime Minster to take immediate action:

So I am demanding that the Prime Minister comes to the House of Commons on Monday and sets out to the British people how she plans to fix her failure on the NHS.

May refused to do this and when asked about the Red Cross’ comments yesterday on Sky News she said:

“I don’t accept the description the Red Cross has made of this

May then went on to tout the usual line about NHS spending and hard working NHS staff; pretending to care about the service her government is trying so hard to get rid of.

May and Hunt’s complete dismissal of the NHS crisis — a manufactured crisis designed to make full privatisation inevitable — is testament to the fact the Tories do not care how many people suffer or die as a result of their dedication to the cruelty inherent in the failed neoliberal ideology with which they dedicate their lives to pursuing.

The Tories are trying to move the terms of the debate around the NHS crisis so that the conversation becomes about how to fix the NHS. It is almost certain that privatisation will be seen as the preferable way to fix the NHS.

In a sense the Tories are playing with fire. The NHS is a deeply loved British institution and if they were to openly state they want to get rid of it they would almost certainly lose the next election.

Speaking on the foundation of the NHS in 1948 one of the founding fathers of it,  Aneurin Bevan said:

The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it

This is exactly why we must not let the Tories convince us that the NHS isn’t worth fighting for, and why we must fight them every step of the way.

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