Monday, March 16, 2009
The Battle for Our NHS
This column of mine appears in the Morning Star.
You can be fairly sure that when neoliberals tell us that such and such a "reform" will be good for us, they really mean that "reform" will be good for capital and not for the majority of the public.
The neoliberals said that selling off the railways would lead to better service and lower fares. They also said that privatising gas, electricity and water would reduce household bills. And now they would like us to believe that the establishment of polyclinics will improve health care.
Don't believe a word of it.
A 2008 King's Fund report said that polyclinics could pose "significant risks for patient care." It also found that "there is no evidence that larger GP practices deliver higher quality care than smaller ones and that "there is ... evidence that quality may be decreased in certain cases."
The report also warned that "a major centralisation of GP services into polyclinics would make it more difficult for patients to visit their GP, especially those living in rural areas."
In addition, a new study by Kent GP Dr Hendrik Beerstecher has found that average-sized GP surgeries are just as good as "super-surgeries" at providing extra services. He looked at 384 practices and found no difference between the range of extra services offered by standard surgeries and polyclinics.
"I am not sure why the government is pushing ahead with polyclinics. As the study shows, there is no evidence that they provide more services so why are we having them set up all across the country?" he asked.
Why indeed? The answer to Dr Beerstecher's question is that polyclinics make it easier for the government to further its objective of privatising the NHS by stealth.
Big corporations will be able to put in multiple bids to run the new polyclinics and, if the government's plans are allowed to go through, GP services will soon be in the hands of multinational corporations, such as the US company UnitedHealth.
Corporate-run polyclinics will put profit maximisation ahead of the interests of patients - dealing a fatal blow to the whole ethos of the NHS.
We must not let it happen.
DON'T think the neoliberal ideologues who have dominated the public discourse over the past 30 years will go down without a fight.
Despite the total discrediting of the "free market" economic system they advocate, a group of influential neoliberal think tanks are still trying to persuade us that the answer to the problems we face today is yet more "market-based solutions." One such think-tank is Reform.
Reform says its mission "is to set out a better way to deliver public services." And the director of Reform, a former Conservative policy wonk called Andrew Haldenby, wants "smaller government."
In a recent article, he enthused over a sentence in the new government white paper on public-sector reform which said that "a responsive state should withdraw from areas in which it is no longer needed."
There's no prizes for guessing which area Haldenby and his fellow neoliberal fanatics think the state should withdraw from.
In a recent report, Reform called for "radical change" in health-care provision in Britain, with "other insurers" allowed to join the system and the NHS replaced with a National Health Protection Service.
We all know who would benefit from such "radical" changes - it certainly wouldn't be you or I, dear reader.
Another fine mess...
WHAT would you do with £97 billion? You might have thought that any government or country which received such an enormous sum would be quite a prosperous place, with no need for IMF bail-outs or other rescue packages. Think again.
The Hungarian state has received 105bn euros in privatisation revenue for the years 1990-2007, a period during which thousands of publicly owned assets were sold off.
Pro-privatisation ideologues argued that selling off "inefficient" state-run enterprises and fully embracing a programme of "economic reform" would make Hungary a more prosperous country.
In fact, after 20 years of privatisation, Hungary's economic situation has worsened.
Despite the huge bonanza of privatisation revenue, the country's finances are in a parlous state.
Last autumn, the country received a 20bn euros (£18.6bn) international rescue package. Now, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany is calling for further help to bail-out his near-bankrupt country.
With the Hungarian health service in crisis due to a lack of government investment, the Hungarian people are, understandably asking a very simple question. Where did all the money go?
Still milking our railway
RECESSION? What recession? For British bus and train operator Arriva plc, the money keeps rolling in. The company, which runs public transport in 12 European countries including Britain, made pre-tax profits of £150m last year.
Its rail franchises, which now include the CrossCountry Aberdeen to Penzance route, brought in £837.8m - up 160 per cent on the previous 12 months - while its bus revenue jumped by 13 per cent to £922.4m.
Arriva is just one of a small handful of companies which has made extraordinary amounts of money due to the privatisation of public transport in Britain and abroad. And much of the money has come from public subsidies the company, in common with other private transport providers, receive from the taxpayer.
Around £2.5bn is handed over each year to Britain's bus companies, leading to the companies being labelled "subsidy junkies" by Graham Stringer MP of the transport select committee.
Instead of subsiding private companies, wouldn't it be more logical - and more economical for taxpayers - if the government simply brought back British Rail and the National Bus Company?