On Tuesday I felt my blood pressure rising as I watched the US president salivate over the prospect of buying up our NHS. Our prime minister, standing next to him, said nothing. Nothing.
Despite being repeatedly asked, she has refused to categorically confirm that our NHS will not be part of a trade deal. Our NHS is being used as a pawn. Health care is being treated as a commodity to be traded and profited from. I am livid.
Live on the BBC, the US ambassador confirmed our NHS will “definitely be on the table”. The response from our health secretary Matt Hancock? A tweet. Yes, a tweet.
Reassured? The is the same health secretary that stated “there will be no privatisation on my watch” whilst continuing to outsource NHS contracts to the private sector. This the same health secretary that endorsed private company Babylon (arguably breaking ministerial code) in the Evening Standard, and the same health secretary, that has received donations from the right-wing lobby group the Institute for Economic Affairs, which lobbies for NHS privatisation.
Today, Trump ‘back-tracked’ on his statement by saying of the NHS: “I don’t see it being on the table”, but trust me, this is no reassurance. Our NHS employs over a million people and has over 60million users, it is this country’s best (and most lucrative) asset.
The American healthcare lobby is powerful and they have many American politicians in their pocket. So, no, Hancock’s tweet gives me zero confidence. A Boris-led government, post a no-deal mess will have no qualms in selling off our NHS in their grovelling desperation for a US trade deal.
I love and cherish our NHS and the values it represents; those British values of fairness, diversity, tolerance and respect for everyone. An NHS where everyone is cared for and treated the same, regardless of their wealth, race or creed.
When profit is the primary motive, the inevitable ‘cherry-picking’ of profitable patients and services occurs. As money is siphoned off the shareholders, funding, staff and corners are cut, and care is often compromised. I do not want to work in a healthcare system, where those that can afford it are offered better care. I do not want to work in a healthcare system where the private sector creams off the ‘profitable’ patients, whilst the rest are left to a second-class service. I do not want to work in a healthcare system, where profits to shareholders come second to the care I give my patients.
The founding principles of our NHS, a universal healthcare service, free at the point of need to everyone, are already being eroded by this government.
According to the Centre for Health and Public Interest, there are now 53,000 contracts with the private sector. The amount the NHS spends on the private sector is increasing year on year. We have already seen the introduction of healthcare charging mechanisms, under the mirage of “health tourism”. The narrative of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ of care has been pushed by this government and in our right-wing press. Through the vilification of poor and obese people. The rationing of health services is already well underway.
The threat to our NHS is real and here. We cannot underestimate the power of the corporate lobby and financial interests; this is why we need to campaign hard. A tweet from our health secretary is just not good enough. We need a formal commitment from the government that our NHS, under any future prime minister, must never be a pawn in future trade talks. It is our NHS, and our NHS is not, and should never be, up for sale.
Since starting this petition, amongst the overwhelming support for our NHS, I’ve also suffered criticism. I’ve been told that I am “ideologically attached to failing service”. Is our NHS perfect? A joy to work in? Of course not. But look in the right direction.
Our NHS has suffered 12 years of underfunding, under-resourcing and under-staffing. The ideology of this government is suffocating the NHS. Our tax-based model is not only the most equitable but the most economically efficient way to provide healthcare for all (shown by the Commonwealth Fund and agreed by all the major health think-tanks). And in ‘money-first’ America, they spend double per person on healthcare (17% of GDP vs our 9%, according to the World Bank) than we do.
Introducing insurance based healthcare would not only be less fair and equitable, but will cost us more. I joined and campaign with Keep Our NHS Public because I believe privatisation of our health service needs to be stamped out for the benefit of patients and the service itself. The slogan ‘patients not profit’ should triumph every time.
Dr Sonia Adesara is an NHS junior doctor and campaigner with Keep Our NHS Public