Progressive sections in UK vow to resist privatization of NHS

Trade Unions and health rights groups have said the Health and Care Bill introduced by the UK’s Tory government will end up further privatizing key areas of the National Health Service

September 23, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
UK healthcare bill
(Photo: via We Own It Campaign)

As the new Health and Care Bill introduced by the Boris Johnson-led Tory government moves ahead in the UK parliament, progressive sections across the country, including health right groups, politicians, left-wing parties and trade unions, have vowed to resist the bid to privatize the National Health Service (NHS). On Tuesday, September 21, Richard Burgon, MP from the Labour Party, called to reverse all privatization in the NHS and scrap the Tory NHS Bill. He also demanded adequate public funding for the NHS and a 15% pay rise for workers. Groups such as We Own It, Unite the Union, and various initiatives and campaigns like Save the NHS have also raised their concerns over the bill. They accused the Tory government of using the COVID-19 emergency to privatize key services of the NHS.

According to the government, the Health and Care Bill 2021-2022, termed by progressive sections as a ‘NHS Corporate Takeover Bill’, aims at reorganizing the NHS and introducing integrated care by bringing hospitals, general practice (GP) and social care closer together, with a role by private providers and companies. The government wants to promote the formal collaboration of private entities, which already have a significant stake in the NHS. 

The opponents of the bill claim that the bid to reorganize the NHS is an attempt by the Tory government to further privatize key services. According to reports, the bill will concentrate many new powers in the hands of the health secretary. It will also break up the NHS into 42 separate integrated care systems (ICSs), where each ICS will have “its own tight budget which will force local cuts” even in a pandemic situation which demands more investments in public health. The bill passed its first and second reading in the UK House of Commons on July 6 and 14, respectively, despite opposition from the Labour Party. The bill is currently in the Committee Stage. The third reading of the bill is due in October and the government wants to bring it in force by April 2022.

In a statement on Tuesday, Unite the Union’s national officer for health, Jackie Williams, said that the “NHS is our greatest achievement and after a decade of underfunding and coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, this bill is not the prescription we need. Instead of helping our NHS, this bill invites private companies to make further inroads into our NHS to the detriment of patients and workers and gives the secretary of state new powers to interfere in the work of health professionals.”

Just Treatment, a UK-based organization working on issues of access to care, stated that the bill will take the NHS towards a US-style healthcare system where private profits are put before patients’ health. According to them, the new bill will put far too much power in the hands of private companies, which will be allowed to profit from people’s health, contrary to the principles of the NHS. “They’ll also be able to decide what to pay their staff, meaning cost cutting could hurt our overworked nurses and doctors even more,” stated Just Treatment.

According to Unite the Union’s estimates, the level of privatization of the NHS in 2018-19 ranged from 7% to 22%, with even the lower figure representing the transfer of £9.2 billion (USD 12.54 billion) from the NHS budget into private players’ pockets. 

Robert Griffiths, general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), has also slammed the “proliferation of private healthcare, the transfer of NHS and GP services to profit-driven corporations, the drain of NHS funds to Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) and the doubling of payments to private contractors since 2010.”   

We Own It campaign stated that prime minister Boris Johnson and health secretary Sajid Javid wants to allow private companies to sit on NHS’s decision making boards and to introduce the US model which prioritizes profit margins over peoples health, which will lead to cuts and closures and also push more people to go private. Earlier, in a survey conducted by We Own It and Survation, 76% of respondents said that they wished to see the NHS “reinstated as a fully public service”, against just 15% who accepted private collaboration in the NHS. 

“Patients and staff don’t want more corporate power in our NHS – we want more funding, a democratic voice in how it’s run, proper support for health workers, and an end to NHS privatization. These plans are the opposite of the NHS New Deal we’ve been calling for,” said Just Treatment’s organizers in a statement.