THE BLOG

The Founding Principle of the NHS Is That It Is Free at the Point of Need

25/06/2013 13:14 BST | Updated 25/08/2013 10:12 BST

The BMA have rightly highlighted the danger to the UK's NHS at their conference this week. The future of the NHS was also hotly debated at Unison's conference in Liverpool last week. And as the largest healthcare union in the UK representing over 450,000 workers we agreed on the need to keep on campaigning to protect the NHS.

We will be leading a national lobby at the Tory Party conference in September this year to keep up the pressure. There is unanimous agreement among all the health unions that this government is setting up the NHS in England for privatisation, or to be run on a health insurance model or a combination of both.

It is clear from information from our members that certain services are being at best rationed and at worse stopped. Whilst recognising the pressure that doctors and other healthcare providers are under moving to a "top up" situation, as some BMA doctors have called for, would be disastrous. This would mean identifying "core" services that would be free and patients paying for additional services. It would be easy to see more and more services being seen as "extra".

The founding principle of the NHS is that it is free at the point of need. Can the new system in England sustain this?

Will healthcare be free for long-term conditions such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis etc probably yes - even this right wing market driven government may not go so far as to change that.

What about needing care in an emergency - the answer might be probably yes - but what if the accident was a result of being drunk or on drugs? Or because of high risk activity - maybe even a spots injury. Will decisions be made about blame and culpability and who will take these decisions?

But what if it's not about saving your life but about improving the quality of your life - hip or knee replacements, infertility treatments, physiotherapy, counselling? Will these be the kind of treatments that aren't seen as "core" but somehow choice driven extras?

The danger of this would push people into an insurance model of healthcare, with the public encouraged to take out health insurance to pay for "top-up" services. This would be the beginning of the end for the NHS.

What we need is more investment in ill-health prevention, early intervention where this is proven to be effective and better controls on the costs of drugs. Above all we need a government committed to the NHS funded by taxation - and a government committed to making big businesses pay their taxes and not be able to make a virtue out of tax avoidance.

Instead we have a government hell-bent on the "marketisation" of healthcare, a system which would allow private companies to make profits for shareholders rather than investing in better healthcare for all. A system where there is no evidence base for supporting this approach. That is why we are calling on local communities to join with the unions and other protestors at the Tory party conference in Manchester in September.