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The British National Health Service - Is it Safe With the Tories?

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Long ago in the late fifties, in Iraq, as an 11 year old boy, I developed osteomyelitis after a fall from a bicycle. My poor parents had to borrow the money to pay for many doctors' visits before the correct diagnosis was made. They then needed to borrow more money to pay for an operation without which my leg would have had to be amputated, or I probably would have died. Many families in the village who were poorer than my family would not have been able to borrow the money, and had it happened to their son he would have almost certainly died. My poor family had to suffer a few years of hardship to repay the loans. I will always be grateful and humbled by my family's sacrifice.

The year 1970-1971 I spent in Russia, which was under communism at the time. In a discussion with some Russian friends about Russia versus the UK, they conceded that when it came to consumer goods, washing machines, cars... etc. the people of Britain were far better served than their counterparts in Russia, but they continued, "If we are ill or have an accident, however, we do not have to worry about medical bills". I said, "Neither would you if you were a British citizen; Britain has the NHS". That came as a complete surprise to them; it was never reported in their government controlled media.

The National Health Service is just about all that is left from the mixed economy that characterised Britain not long ago. Utilities (gas, water, electricity) have all been privatised, sold cheaply with enormous profits to multinational corporations. Social (council) housing all but disappeared under Margaret Thatcher's right to buy scheme, selling council houses at an enormous discount. The railways were fragmented and sold, with commuters frequently now packed in like sardines, often having to stand for hours and paying a fortune for the privilege. All these sell-offs happened under Conservative governments.

The National Health Service means a lot to me, and I have no doubt to the overwhelming majority of the British public. This government knows that it cannot get away with a full frontal attack on this most cherished of Britain's institutions. I fear that their Health and Social care bill is a way of salami-slicing the privatisation of the NHS.

Cathy Warwick, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives writes in the New Statesman:

"The RCM took the decision to go into battle and oppose the bill outright when we asked ourselves what the NHS will look like in five years if this bill goes through. There will be lots of new, private providers, competing with each other. In addition, any remaining NHS providers will be foundation trusts, pretty much free to earn a vast chunk of their income privately, rendering their "NHS" status essentially meaningless. Commissioning services from all these providers may well be carried out by specialist private-sector companies, who, like the private providers, will all be skimming off profit as money flows endlessly around the system... a paradise for accountants, a nightmare for patients.

In short, five years from now the NHS might be little more than a state-funded health insurance system, made up of a fragmented mishmash of private companies competing with each other to provide narrow slivers of care. NHS would be the logo on the front of it all - but with no real NHS hospitals, no NHS doctors, NHS nurses or NHS midwives. The NHS that has served us pretty well for over 60 years will be gone, something for people to read about in their history books."

The British people are rightly proud of their NHS and will campaign to save it from confused, misinformed and ideologically driven changes. By so doing, families will be spared the worry and the misery of having to find the money to treat a sick child like my parents had to do.