Sorry for my absence. I’ve been in the care of our fantastic NHS

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Yes, the considerable gap in posting anything on this blog has been enforced in part by a long-standing health issue. It led to four operations last year, and another just a few weeks ago. A cycle of – operation – pain – recovery – low mood – operation again – has been my life for quite some time.

The thing is though, without our NHS I don’t know how I’d have managed. Indeed, I could never have afforded private care as the health insurance premiums would have been through the roof. After all, who would insure someone who was always needing hospital care?

So what about the care I received on the NHS? From my local GP practice, through to the operating theatre, via consultant, ward, pre-assessment, blood tests and more, it was nothing short of excellent. The only thing I never truly grasped, was why there was such a complicated system to dispense Tramadol upon my discharge from hospital.

What did become very apparent, was the dedication of all the staff in spite of the visible pressure. Frankly, there didn’t seem to be enough nurses or medical staff on the wards; and on one occasion I spent four hours in the recovery room because there was nowhere else for me to go.

The impact of funding cuts, and the lack of beds is clearly a serious issue. But it certainly isn’t going to be solved by more so-called efficiency savings and yet more private sector involvement in the NHS. From what I saw the staff were already working flat out, and only additional resources (and I include in that resources for more effective social care) will make a difference. Something tells me though that the Chancellor is not going to be very helpful come the spring budget.

As for me, well hopefully my medical problems are behind me. My biggest fear however, especially as the Tories seem to have consolidated their likelihood of staying in power, is that by the time my grandchildren are all grown up, our health service may be all but gone.

 

 

Leading Tories target NHS for sell-off after Brexit

Pride's Purge

Uh-oh!

Here’s a recent article on the Conservative Home website by former cabinet minister and leading Brexit campaigner Owen Paterson calling for an end to the NHS:

It’s time for the Government to face up to the grim truth. The NHS simply isn’t fit for purpose.

Not surprising, as before the Brexit referendum leading Brexiters had already made clear their desire to sell off the NHS to privately owned corporations.

But now after the referendum result, senior Brexit supporters in the Tory Party are openly calling for the end of the NHS.

Incidentally, Paterson is in the pay of a private healthcare company called Randox Laboratories, which is paying him £4,166 a month for 8 hours work:

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Be afraid.

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If ever there was a time to back our NHS, it is now #JuniorDoctorsStrike #NHSBill

The current dispute with junior doctors is much more than a fight over pay and conditions. The very future of our national health service is at stake. I say this because as others have already made clear, the seven day working that the Tories want to see would leave even more of our NHS open to privatisation.

Already £billions worth of contracts have been awarded to the private sector to run all kinds of different services. But with no routine surgery at weekends, the present set up is a less attractive prospect to the profiteers. Put another way, the likes of American private health companies would no doubt prefer to see planned operations provide a profit over seven days rather than five.

Of course what the Tories are doing, although alarming, is not exactly surprising. Privately run health care is just an example of their ideological approach to public services; and marketisation was of course a key aspect of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Then consider also the impact of financial pressures imposed by central government.

Yet in response, what the Labour Party is doing, or rather not doing, is of grave concern. On the NHS more than any other issue, Labour has been on safe ground. We love our NHS, and we trust Labour to look after it. So apologies if I’ve missed it, but why isn’t the party adding their voice to that of the Greens, and giving unequivocal support to the junior doctors? Why isn’t it giving its total support to the NHS reinstatement bill tabled by Caroline Lucas MP. Why isn’t it shouting from every street corner about the damage the Tories are doing? Why are they not making the future of our NHS the central plank in their fight-back against the Tories? 

The circumstances surely warrant a robust defence from Labour.

Working in our health service takes a special type of person. But the professionalism and commitment of staff has sadly been rewarded with pay freezes and attacks on their pensions. Now we are seeing a campaign against junior doctors played out in the media, and a threat to the bursaries of student nurses. Meanwhile the profiteers remain poised to grab ever more contracts for clinical services.

I’ve had need of our national health service quite a lot in the last few years. From my local GP surgery, to the operating theatre, to the urgent care centre at a local hospital, I have benefitted from the professional care and dedication of the staff: and the fact that the service is, for now at least, free at the point of use. The thought that one day it could be gone is frankly shocking. 

So if ever there was a time to back the staff, and back the National Health Service, it is now. 

the year is 2024. this is our future history….

I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m still shocked at what they’ve done to this country. It’s as if we’ve learnt nothing, even now, almost a quarter of the way into the 21st century.

Of course we new it could happen. After their election in 2015 the Tory government went on a rampage. Their first 100 days saw them put into place the powers needed to control the electorate and marginalise any opposition. First it was their snoopers charter, enabling electronic surveillance on a scale never before envisaged. Fear of terrorist attacks made it a popular move, and dissenting voices were ridiculed as soft, wishy washy, left-wing and unpatriotic. Of course this extra surveillance gave the government early warning of proposed campaigns and any unfavourable media reports against their agenda; enabling them to pre-empt and counter with tremendous effect.

Next came the anti-union legislation, coupled with new measures to speed up the privatisation of our NHS, social services, prisons, schools and colleges. Legal strikes proved almost impossible to organise; and new laws were brought in making it a criminal offence to organise unofficial action. Selling off the BBC was hailed as a golden moment by the Government and the media, all but wiping out any serious analysis of the government’s programme by the broadcast media.

Then we had further restrictions on what charities could say despite their rapidly growing role providing services that were once the job of the public sector; and in filling the gaps left by a series of severe welfare cuts.

The referendum that took us out of Europe the following year proved pivotal. Laws from Europe protecting workers and the environment were soon repealed, while a new British Rights Act was brought in based on so-called British values. This was big on rights to create wealth and own property; but proved totally ineffective at protecting civil liberty. Indeed, the right to protest was curtailed with limits on, among other things, the number of people that constituted a legal demonstration. Immigration was effectively halted; and many recent migrants chose to leave due to a climate of discrimination and hate that flourished in the post European era.

Alarmingly, the expected popular backlash against the government  never really materialised. A sympathetic media were very quick to undermine opposition leaders. labelling them as anti-British, against progress, and of course, left-wing. Their private lives were disrupted and some even criminalised for daring to organise protests. This soon become the establishment response; and sadly it gained traction in our increasingly divided society.

Most of us had pinned our hopes on the election of 2020, but the disappointment that night proved worse than in 2015. Despite securing an even smaller share of the popular vote than before, the Tories held on to power with a majority of two. Once again the first-past-the-post electoral system proved their saviour. The rebranded right-wing Labour party failed to make any headway, losing seats to the Lib Dems and to a confident Green party that secured over 7 million votes. 

For many of us the prospect of another five years of conservative policy was too much. By summer 2021 the Labour party had imploded. Three of its MPs joined the Tories, and a sizeable group refused the party whip. Many  activists simply resigned from the party. The only real opposition inside parliament was coming from a rump of whip-less Labour traditionalists, and an alliance of Green, SNP, Liberal Democrat and Paid Cymru MPs. Outside of parliament there were sporadic and sometimes violent protests, unofficial strikes and occupations at a number of universities.

But despite this period of unrest, the division between the haves and the have-nots meant that for the better-off half of the population, the country was a happy place. It was perhaps this fact, plus the relentless media messages and police harassment, that led eventually to the end of the unrest. People had grown weary and despondent. No doubt just what the government wanted.

Home owners, who by now were almost all aged over 40, were enjoying a surge in house prices; and landlords were exploiting their wealthier tenants like never before. Gated communities were proving popular; and a whole new service sector was springing up to cater just for their needs. Indeed the haves rarely needed to go far, with almost everything they needed being delivered to their secure and nicely painted doors.

But for those who could not afford to buy or rent anything decent, daily life was far from happy. Before the 2020 election there had been a growth in the number families sharing with others, pooling resources in order to get by. Housing co-operatives were now common, as was squatting. And in some cities whole areas were rapidly being dubbed the new shanty towns as homeless people improvised their own housing with boxes, tents, sheds, and caravans. Unsurprisingly with this hardship came poorer health, and reduced participation in education and civil society.

So with a year until the next election, Britain is a grossly unequal country. Social mobility is for much of the country, a thing of the past. But while the poor and vulnerable suffer and die, the better-off thrive and the wealthy propser. If you have money and property in 2024, you are well looked after.  

Personally I’ve been lucky. A reasonable occupational pension and a job with a charity means I don’t struggle. But I have no health insurance so the threat of serious illness always haunts me. Today I am joining some fellow activists. I expect we’ll be turned back a good mile from the fracking rig. But this ritual is being repeated by environmental campaigners all over the country on an almost weekly basis. If we are lucky the police will be expecting the protest at another fracking site, so we may get through. If we succeed, the plan is to stay until we are arrested.

marching for our national health service

A group of people are currently walking towards London today in support of our National Health Service. In fact, the People’s March for the NHS has been going strongly since it left Jarrow on 16 August.

It has now reached Market Harborough in south Leicestershire and has another 100 or so miles to go before arriving at the Houses of Parliament on 6 September. Following the basic route of the 1936 Jarrow Crusade, the People’s March for the NHS aims to make the public aware of what the coalition government has been doing to our NHS, and what has been happening to our hospitals and health services.

A key issue is the creeping commercialisation of our NHS, something that will only increase as a result of the Health and Social Care Act. This removed from the Secretary of State, responsibility for the health of UK citizens; and transferred clinical commissioning to local “commissioning groups” opening up a major point of access for private providers.

Now as you may have heard, David Cameron is of the view that as long as the service is free at the point of use, it doesn’t matter who provides it. But without effective regulation, commercial health care providers have no obligation to provide an integrated and universal service. Indeed, there is a very real danger, as Steve Smith explain’s on Big Up the NHS, that we will drift into US style provision. I doubt very few people in this country would want that.

So the People’s March is so much more than a publicity stunt – it is taking forwards an important message, and showing this right-wing coalition that not only are they are completely out of touch, but that we care deeply about our NHS.

excellence in our NHS is being threatened by creeping privatisation

I’m currently recuperating at home after surgery last Friday for a most unwanted, but fortunately not serious health problem. My whole patient experience, from referral to admission to aftercare, can only be described as excellent. The NHS staff who looked after me were dedicated, skilled and efficient. They were friendly, helpful and, being aware of my nervousness, full of empathy. What’s more, they kept me fully informed, explaining anything I didn’t understand, even drawing me diagrams. Most importantly they put my care and comfort first, and for that I am forever grateful.

However this human face of the NHS didn’t hide a shortage of nursing staff. In the recovery room it was apparent, even through my morphine-induced high, that they were a person short; and one of the nurses later confirmed this. They also looked a little stretched on the ward. But it is to their credit that the support I received was at all times superb.

Of course the media are always very quick to highlight problems in the NHS, and there have certainly been serious ones in some Health Service Trusts. But when you think about how many patients are treated on the NHS, serious incidents remain rare. Clearly though funding remains a key issue. Before the last election, posters of David Cameron appeared which said he’d cut the deficit, not the NHS. But since then we’ve witnessed efficiency savings and a reorganisation that was, as far as I can tell, about as useful as a chocolate fire guard. Health professionals are very worried: In the last two years 35,000 NHS staff have been axed, including 5,600 nurses. Half of our 600 ambulance stations are earmarked for closure. One-third of NHS walk-in centres have been closed and 10% of A&E units have been shut.

If that isn’t scary enough, then take a look at the creeping privatisation. Last year a majority of new NHS contracts to provide services went to private companies. The Department of Health’s annual accounts show these companies benefited from public money to the tune of some £10 billion. That, frankly, is staggering. Nor is it just non-clinical services that are affected. GP services, mental health services, ambulance services and some maternity care are amongst a long list now being run, in some parts of the country, by the private sector.

Yet there is absolutely no evidence that the commercial market is more efficient or provides any benefits for patient outcomes. Indeed, these companies have to make a profit, and the quickest route to this is through staff savings. In other woods, by making cuts.

Further privatisation is planned of course. Another £5.8 billion worth is being advertsied at the moment. The British people didnt vote for a privately run health service, but we’re being given one anyway.

So I have two questions for Cameron. Firstly, when we have an excellent National Health Service why on earth do you want to privatise it? And secondly, once the service is in private hands, for how much longer will care and treatment such as I have experienced, remain free at the point of use?

closing the doors to dissent

Perhaps I am worrying unnecessarily, but it seems to me as if asserting your rights to engage in dissent is becoming increasingly difficult these days.

Consider this. Freedom of association and the right to strike have, almost without exception, been a feature of western democracies. Wherever trade unions have thrived, working people have had a voice; and through collective bargaining, they have been able to establish agreed levels of pay and conditions.

But ever since the days of Thatcher Britain’s trade unions have been undermined, marginalised and over-regulated. Even under Labour, little changed. Trade unions may have been consulted more often, and there was some welcome progress on individual employment rights. But all the Tory anti-union laws remained in place. Whereas in the 1970’s, most British workers were covered by collective bargaining, by 2011 it had fallen to a low of just 23%.

Of course under the coalition government there was never going to be any support for trade unions. With the help of the media corporations, unions continue to be demonised. Now, after a million public sector workers took strike action the conservatives are promising even tighter restrictions on industrial action ballots. Their goal surely, is to make lawful strikes all but impossible, and cut off workers last resort form of protest.

But it is not just trade unions who are being attacked. The coalition has set about steadily eroding individual employment rights. Workers who seek justice through an employment tribunal now have to pay a fee, and the qualifying service needed to claim unfair dismissal has been raised to two years. Alongside an economic policy of continued austerity, the effect is a more insecure, more compliant, and cheaper workforce. Indeed, we have around a million workers on zero hours contracts and many more struggling on just the minimum wage.

Then we have the privatisation of the public sector. The effect of this is to remove whatever notion of public accountability we had, and instead concentrate control in the hands of a few very large corporations. The public are seen as consumers rather than stakeholders; and whole industries are run not for the common good but for the benefit of shareholders.

Not content with taking away workers rights, restricting trade unions, and removing public accountability through privatisation, the coalition have also chosen to attack our welfare state, making sure that the vulnerable are subjected to greater scrutiny and benefit cuts while the government’s friends in the media remain free to brand them as scroungers.

From where I stand, the overall effect of the coalition’s austerity measures, combined with their privatisation programme and erosion of employment rights, is to further transfer power away from where it is needed, and to concentrate it in the hands of rich corporations and presumably some wealthy individuals.

Whats more, other means of opposition are being stifled. We had the attack on government critics in the voluntary sector with the ill thought-out lobbying bill, (which is now law). Then when students protested last year, the police moved in. They weren’t alone: Occupy London, Caroline Lucas MP, benefit campaigners and others have all experienced robust policing when voicing their opposition to government policy. In a modern democracy, where disengagement with mainstream politics is fast becoming a reality, it is surely unwise to close doors to legitimate peaceful opposition in this way.

Surely by stamping out industrial action, preventing peaceful protest, and eroding democratic accountability we are walking into something sinister. Against this background, are we not sowing seeds for a future where one day we might find ourselves in a fascist nightmare?