Year 2000 No. 184, October 31, 2000
Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :
Now Is the Time to Seriously Discuss How to Safeguard the Future of the NHS
News In Brief
Plans to Cut Back NHS to "Life Critical" Service
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At this time when the struggle against the cut-backs in the NHS and the widescale introduction of PFI is growing, it is essential that serious discussion should also be organised on how to safeguard the future of the NHS.
The issue really is to make sure that this struggle which is growing in power is not diverted but is broadened and strengthened. This can be done if people are drawn into discussing this crucial question how the future of the NHS can be safeguarded.
Such a discussion must seriously question and examine the parameters which are being put forward by the government in the NHS Plan, the White Paper Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation, and generally in the direction that the government is taking the NHS. At the same time, the discussion must involve health workers and staff, professionals, and the masses of the people in discussing on what principles a modern health service should be based, and what kind of a society would guarantee that such principles are realised in practice.
For example, the Prime Minister in his speech to the Royal College of Surgeons on October 17 identified that much of the problem of the NHS "is down to a poorly organised and managed system". He asserted that the NHS Plan addresses this problem in such ways as popularising "best practice", using staff "more flexibly", giving more power to "front line staff", and so on. All of these steps, he said, are "designed to deliver a patient centred service". So let it be discussed and we can see, is this the problem in the NHS, and how Tony Blairs plan relates to reality. If a patient-centred service is the aim, how is it that the patients are totally peripheral to how the NHS is run, and how is it that the direction that the NHS is moving in, which is to gear it to the sealing of Private Finance Initiatives, is meaning that the patients are more and more up in arms about their treatment? How are these facts related to the direction that society itself is moving in? These are serious questions for discussion.
If an NHS were "patient-centred", could it not be said that it must be based on the principle that health care is a right? Should not the movement to safeguard the future of the NHS begin from this principle? In words, the government talks about improving the health of the worst-off in society and narrowing the health gap. Is this anything more than a policy objective? Should it not be that the "health gap" should actually be eliminated rather than narrowed. Should not health care be available to all at the highest level society is capable of, and not be made dependent on whether one is worse off or better off? Should it not be addressed how the gap between the worse off and the better off is constantly widening in society?
People should get together to discuss these questions with the perspective of strengthening the pro-social programme, that programme which stands on the bed-rock that society itself must recognise and meet the claims on it of all the individuals for health care and their other needs.
Plans to set up a round-the-clock operations room at the Department of Health and cut back the NHS to a "life critical service" in the event of a new fuel crisis have been set out by acting NHS chief executive Neil McKay.
He says in a letter to health authorities and social service departments, "This may mean reducing the level of service provided. In the extreme there should be plans for reducing services to those that are life critical."
The organisers of the fuel protests have constantly reiterated that fuel for essential services such as health will be safeguarded. What then lies behind these plans for cutting back the NHS services to those that are "life critical"?
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