Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

EDITORIAL COMMENT: NHS – the fightback continues!

In Editorial on April 12, 2012 at 11:13 am

On March 20th 2012, the House of Commons delivered the death blow to the National Health Service as we’ve known it since 1948.

This, of course, isn’t the end of the campaign. It mustn’t be. But as the Service is fragmented, and the private sector moves in as “willing providers”, resistance will no doubt become more localised. Unions will continue to fight for pay and conditions of their members – and hopefully for the welfare of the patients that their members care for.

And, perhaps, we need to ask ourselves why? Why, after such an unprecedented campaign of sustained opposition, both from those who work within the NHS and the general public, did the ConDem government insist on pushing ahead with a piece of legislation that they knew was so unpopular. Why did they even refuse to listen to the health professionals themselves? After all, Cameron has performed U-turns on other issues – as he did on his Bill to sell off the forests. So why not on the NHS? Why wasn’t he prepared to bow to the will of the people?

Probably, on this issue, he felt that there was too much at stake. When it came to the crunch, his government had much more riding on it. And he had the vested interests of the private “healthcare” industry breathing down his neck. Despite all the blather, it was in their interests that the legislation has been forced through.


And, of course, we’ve faced decades of creeping privatisation already – ever since the bleak Thatcher years in fact. It’s to the shame of the “New Labour” government under Blair that little or nothing was done to reverse the damage to the fabric of the NHS caused by the Thatcher years. Indeed, to give one example, the encouragement of PFI only served to make matters worse.

To its credit, the Labour leadership did campaign against the Health Bill, and voted against it in Parliament (the Lib Dems, of course to their eternal shame, voted in favour, and no doubt will be held to account for their actions). Labour has also pledged to repeal the Act when it returns to power. It is up to us, all of us, to hold them to this pledge. It’s all too easy for weasel words to emerge from those we elect a few years down the line, to the effect that “it’s now too late”. Or “we now have to work with what we’ve got”. When Nye Bevan fought to create National Health Service for all, “free at the point of need” he faced battles. But he built something special – and we want it back.


For us, we will, no doubt, be turning our attention to the fate of healthcare in Gloucestershire. It is difficult to predict at this stage where we’ll be when the new legislation comes into effect. There may be battles to save local health centres, or even hospitals. What will be the fate of small community hospitals such as Lydney or the Dilke, for example? And what of those who work within the NHS locally? What does the future hold for them? Will they continue to be employed directly by the NHS, or will they find themselves working for a private healthcare company, with all that this implies?

In practice, the new legislation is so full of ambiguities that it is difficult to foresee what will happen further down the road. The “worst case scenario” is that the NHS will become merely a supervisory body overseeing a ragbag collection of privately owned healthcare bodies who will (in their own different ways) be given the responsibility of looking after our health on the ground – while perhaps remaining as provider of odd services that the private sector can’t cream off. It’s a daunting thought.

Meanwhile, we still haven’t been given the opportunity to see the secret “Risk Register” on the impact of the legislation. Until we do, we’re entitled to envisage the worst.

For all these reasons, of course, it’s why the fight MUST go on.

The Budget:


It was Ed Milliband who said it all in his budget speech on March 21. In order to lower the tax rate levied on the super rich from 50 to 45 per cent, those on the lower rungs of the ladder are to be squeezed even more than they are now.

Well, the money has to come from somewhere doesn’t it? And if the super rich are going in for tax avoidance on a massive scale, why not lower their tax rate? After all, if they’re not paying up, does it matter?

Well of course it matters. The Chancellor, George Osborne, has now revealed that he’s not only a Thatcherite at heart but one in practice as well.


Many pensioners will be particularly affected by Osborne’s budget. Some 4.1 million of them will be worse off. And new pensioners will lose out even more. As Dot Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said of the budget proposals, “it’s a classic case of smoke and mirrors… In reality there will be no extra money to raise Britain’s scandalously low state pension – just a different way of packaging the payment.”

“The Chancellor’s pledge to cut welfare payments by £10 billion over the next few years will also worry millions of pensioners who may think that their bus passes and winter fuel allowances might be under threat, and the long awaited social care White Paper is being delayed without any explanation, while around a million older people are struggling with a broken care system. The money is being given away in tax breaks for the richest in society…..Pensioners will feel bruised by his budget.”

But of course it’s been the Chancellor’s “gift aid” to the wealthy that really hit the headlines the day after the budget. It was that, that really revealed the true face of Cameron’s Toryism.


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