One of the most cherished institutions in the UK is the National Health Service. Not many people know it, but the NHS is being slowly privatised, piece by piece, right before our eyes.
I was the only Parliamentary Candidate to attend a public meeting held last week by Hackney Keep Our NHS Public, the local branch of the excellent national organisation Keep Our NHS Public. The meeting was called specifically to address the utterly ridiculous plans to sell off two new 'GP led health centres' to big private health care companies (including one centre based on the site of the existing OldHill practice), to add to the three GP surgeries that have already been sold off to the private sector in Hackney.
It is clear that the first interest of these big private companies is in making money for their shareholders, not in caring for patients. The “GP-led health centres” will use a new contract model, called the Alternative Provider of Medical Services contract, or APMS, which allows the private sector to take over GP services.
This will have a direct effect on patient care in Hackney, as well as pay and conditions in the NHS. GPs employed on short contracts by large private companies don’t have the commitment or knowledge of patients that local GPs do, and commercial contractors do not have to adopt NHS pay and conditions for staff, and do not offer NHS pensions, allowing them to undercut traditional GPs and slash their wage bill.
I was delighted that one of the speakers at the public meeting, Dr Wendy Savage, pointed not only to the consensus among the three large political parties about the creeping privatisation of the NHS, but also explicitly stated that the Green Party were the only national electoral force serious about preserving the core principles of the National Health service. As this recent press release, and the accompanying report make clear, Greens are committed to an NHS that "meets the needs of patients, not the needs of the market and corporate shareholders."
Of course, no institution is ever perfect, and as with all public services, a Green NHS would be a democratised organisation. At the moment, as the report points out, "the NHS responds to centrally driven targets and initiatives at the expense of the needs and wishes of local people. Local services are accountable to Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) that have unelected boards; these in turn are accountable to Strategic Health Authorities, who are accountable to the Department of Health. The Department of Health is accountable to the Secretary of State who reports to parliament. The NHS is a centrally controlled mammoth where local people have almost no influence."
Greens want to change this, by giving patients and NHS workers real control over the services that the state provides for everyone. The most effective, efficient and moral way of providing healthcare is to ensure that it is free at the point of use, treats people like human beings rather than numbers on an accountacy ledger, and is controlled from the bottom-up by ordinary people.
The next meeting of the Hackney branch of Keep Our NHS Public is this evening, at 7.30 pm, in the Churchill Room, General Browning Club, Valette Street, E9, Hackney. Lets all get behind this vital campaign - privatisation must stop here!