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04 June, 2017

Tories deliberately and methodically undermine NHS to deliver it to private sharks

Upcoming UK election outcome will be decisive for this crucial issue

Health professionals accuse the Tories of willfully destroying the NHS by starving it of cash it needs to operate safely. This brings to mind the comments of Tory Party grandee Oliver Letwin who in 2004 allegedly told a private meeting that NHS would cease to exist in five years of a Tory government. Letwin, then advisor to the Tory chancellor, also offered a book titled Privatising the World. Later, what he said actually comes true, albeit a bit later than he had predicted.

Sharmini Peries of The Real News talked with Kam Sandhu, journalist and co-founder of the UK-based Real Media, about Tories' effort to privatize National Health Service in the UK. Sandhu says there is evidence that Tories plan to sell off assets to service NHS; this is the first sign of distress and it will lead to privatization.

In the UK, Tories are traditionally committed to the neoliberal agenda, especially since Thatcher era and beyond. This includes massive privatizations of public assets and services. The National Health Service in the UK has been one of the most successful healthcare systems in the West, run publicly. Yet, the conservatives (and to some extent the Labour before Corbyn) have been fully taken over by the big business lobbyists who have tried for decades to loot NHS, mainly because they are pursuing more tax-breaks and opportunities for more profits from the healthcare sector.

As has been pointed, the Conservatives support budget cuts in the name of fiscal discipline and stability, which, of course, at the end of the tunnel leads to one thing: further tax-cuts for the super-rich.

Sandhu also pointed out:

It is an absolute lie that the NHS is not being sold off. We can explain that in a recent appearance by Theresa May on the Andrew Neil show where she said that she backs the Naylor Report.

Within the Naylor Report, which Theresa May now says she backs, it's written into it that the property and the assets and the buildings that the NHS holds, needs to be sold off, and they'll be incentivized to be sold off in a way that the NHS won't be able to access public funding.

Campaigners say about £20 billion has been removed since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. They're using all these incentives to get the NHS to open up its assets, which moves us much, much closer to privatization, and shows the lie really of what Theresa May said in a different interview in not so far apart.

There is massive public opposition to things like privatization, to the idea of charging, but these changes have taken place outside of the public view. These are huge transformations that are happening under the guises of really boring names, stuff like STPs, really vague and kind of obtuse ways of bringing in these changes. There has been mass transformation, and unfortunately the media has failed to kind of challenge what's happening.

It's quite surprising that only three years ago, the NHS was regarded as the best healthcare system in the world by an international panel of experts. Bottom in that same league was the American system, largely because it spent a lot on healthcare and got some of the worst outcomes. Despite those facts, we are very much moving towards an American-style system. Campaigners I've spoken to say that there is no doubt that we are moving towards that kind of system.

Simon Stevens, who was appointed head of NHS England in 2014, has been one of the figures who's really drove through some of these changes in his Five Year Forward Plan. That Five Year Forward Plan separates England into 44 footprints or regions. It's good to note here that this is happening only in England. This is not happening in Scotland. This is not happening in Wales. Perhaps that gives light to the idea that this is very concentrated, and that perhaps it's strange that they're making it seem so necessary that it has to happen when we have two functioning public services continuing in the countries next to us. These regions, these 44 regions, then are given budgets that they now need to manage, which is something that they've never done before. The campaigners I spoke to said that it's a way of fragmenting the service. The pressures are being piled on in different ways in different areas. It's much more difficult for these regions to understand what's happening between them. One expert that I spoke to said that, while the media does talk about funding and that does come up from time to time, the NHS does appear in the news for a bit and then disappears, they're not talking about privatization. They're not talking about the presence of US companies. They're not talking about the pressures that health workers are under and the suppressed wages. We have stories of nurses going to food banks, and it's estimated that by the end of the decade, they will have experienced a 12% pay cut.

The ways that these pressures are manifesting on our NHS is not being communicated, but Oliver Letwin did write a book called Privatising the World. He did advise the government as a health advisor, and he said in that book, in order to privatize a service, you need to artificially distress it in order to make the need for private companies to come in, which is something that we've seen happen. As a result of that, we're seeing some services being cut. We're seeing people turned away from privately-run services now because they say they're reached their quota. This is now changing the tradition of 65 years of a universal healthcare system in the UK.

If you imagine a hospital budget, they also have these PFI loans, which are very, very toxic loans taken out, kind of mostly under the Blair government but a little bit in the Major government before that. The Conservatives now have signed up to the same deals. It means that people have estimated we'll be paying back £300 billion for £56 billion worth of assets over 30 years. Now that, those loan payments, have to come out of hospital budgets. At the same time, those hospital budgets are being cut, so the money that these hospitals are trying to operate with is depleting. I do want to raise that we have the second lowest expenditure on healthcare in the G7, so this idea that we are unable to afford this system when it already is one of the lowest spend is really a myth.

We have a guy who was vice president of a big healthcare insurer in the US, and we have that company also buying up contracts in the US with policy waved through by Simon Stevens. He said that his 44 footprint plan would be an enormous opportunity for the private sector. For me, I'm seeing huge conflicts of interest in this man.

I certainly think Corbyn's promise to protect the NHS is going to massively work in his favor. To give you one factor, in 2015, Election Unspun did some research into the media coverage of certain subjects. They found that the Conservatives were trusted more on the economy, and that Labour was trusted more on the NHS. Yet in the final few weeks before that election, the NHS was taken off the top five subjects that were being discussed. The NHS has always been something that people believe Labour will protect, so I think that will work in their favor. But I'm not sure if it's been communicated really what's at stake here, the changes to our living standards and the way that we operate and the changes to our society if we lose the NHS.

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