The outcome of the general election floored me. I still cannot believe that we have another five years of selfish, greedy savagery to cope with. I'm not convinced that the NHS will survive or that I'll have a job at the end of the Selfservatives reign.
The NHS remains the last state institution to dismantle and I know that the Tories are itching to destroy it. I've been thinking about a lot and there are a lot of parallels with British Rail and the NHS. British Rail was an institution that everyone loved to moan about and criticise. It became a national joke that everyone shared and not many people grieved or lamented its privatisation. Until now.
What is forgotten amid the jokes of soggy sandwiches and late trains is that British Rail was a largely safe, successful and competent service. It supported British industry and the economy by designing and building its own trains and rolling stock. It also supported British engineering by running its own in house experimental design and research. Much of the current technology on modern trains hails from BR and let us not forget that the HST trains were once the fastest in the world and are still successfully in operation 40 years later. Fares were cheaper, the infrastructure better maintained, accident rates lower despite less sophisticated safety technology and there was a lot more leg room and seat size.
However BR was gradually starved of funding. It was a huge network built on a hotchpotch of private lines that dated back to the early 1900s. Much of the rolling stock, signalling and track needed upgrading but there was no money to do so. Gradually as public expectations increased, BR were unable to provide more with less and were regularly savaged by the press. Everyone had a BR horror story, nobody ever recognised that the good services outweighed the bad, and attempts to introduce market forces into a national public service left it bloated with unnecessary layers of management, meaningless targets, tetchy relationships with unions and services locked in pointless infighting to guard their own resources rather than work as a unified whole. The public lost any confidence in it, took it for granted and didn't really care when it was privatised.
Doesn't that sound familiar? It is exactly what is happening to the NHS.
What happened to our railways is of course well known. The flashy promises of private companies did not deliver. A privately maintained track yielded many accidents and needless loss of innocent life to the point that the track maintenance had to be renationalised. Rolling stock is bought from other countries, are not designed with the British seasons or track conditions in mind and another British manufacturing industry destroyed. Fares are the highest in Europe, trains are the most crowded since WW2, there is huge disparity between regions (unsurprisingly London and the South East gets the most modern trains) and worst of all, the railways receive MORE tax payer subsidy than they ever did when it was British Rail. Unions have become more dissatisfied and so industrial action has increased. Ironically, the only successful private rail company is run by Deusch Rail, the national rail provider in Germany.
Early attempts at private companies running NHS hospitals have not been successful. Let us not forget that the reason why our hospitals are dirty is because cleaning services were privatised by the Tories and tendered out services to profiteers who pay minimum wage, employ fewer staff and expect them to do more with less and have no real accountability to ward managers or NHS staff. Hinchingbrooke Hospital was the first NHS hospital to be taken over by a private company and services were appalling. After the Care Quality Commission published a damning inspection visit report that revealed vast problems from basic standards of care to a bullying blame culture, Circle, the private company responsible, pulled out of the hospital citing financial unsustainablity and left a huge expensive mess for the NHS to sort out.
So next time your train is late, overcrowded and, despite paying the highest fares in Europe, you don't have a seat, remember that this is a direct result of privatisation where shareholder profit is far more important than you as the paying customer. And then ask yourself, is this what you want for your health? Because, unless we challenge NHS cuts and privatisation, that is exactly what we will get.