Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hewitt - "no limits to private role in NHS"

So Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt says there will be “no artificial limits” on the role of the private sector in our Health Service.

What on earth does that mean? How could any such limits be anything other than “artificial”? Are there perhaps “natural” limits, set by climate or topography? Our health service is entirely “artificial” in that it was created by people, and is daily recreated by the labour of those employed within it.

What this means is that when Ms Hewitt talks about retaining the values of the NHS all that she means is a service free at the point of use (for now?) She has no commitment to in-house provision of any service. When she says that there are no “artificial” limits to private involvement she simply means that, on her watch, there will be no limits at all.

This comes from a misunderstanding of very simple economics, and the belief that the “market” can somehow automatically bring efficiencies. On the contrary, health services are not the sort of commodities for which this mantra holds true. The arguments against this misconception are neatly summarised in this UNISON pamphlet.

Details of alternative vision for modernising our health care – based on a shift towards prevention and public health, an embedding of collaborative networks and integrated care pathways, the mobilisation of professionalism and a public service ethic, and genuine forms of patient empowerment and public accountability are set out in a number of articles collected together here by Keep Our NHS Public.

This latest reiteration of the threat to our health service demonstrates why we need united opposition to the privatisation plans of New Labour, such as the new NHS together campaign and the established Keep Our NHS Public campaign. If the Labour Party cannot be shifted from its current path then we face the even worse prospect of a Tory Government at the next election.

UNISON members in NHS Logistics, striking tomorrow against privatisation, are leading the way. Good luck to them!

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