Today a group of US health Care professionals wrote a letter – printed in the Guardian.
It warns of a slippery slope for the NHS towards profit-driven, pay-as-you-go health care, towards an NHS where the wealthy will get treatment while others struggle to afford it, where a two-tier system of care develops – with the rich buying out, and the rest of us left with second best – or worse.
The letter comes as Labour is again calling on the Government to publish the secret report it commissioned on another NHS re-organisation.
The NHS is on the ballot paper this week.
The American doctors – who know what a for-profit, self-pay health service looks like – pose the stark choice which faces us on May 7.
It is worth quoting much of their letter in full.
‘As American health care professionals who often use the example of the NHS to advocate for a fairer and better system in the US, we have recognised recent developments in England that are deserving of concern. In particular, we express concern over movements toward transferring more and more services to for-profit corporations in your healthcare system and measures that encourage the development of a self-pay market for care. Access to treatment should not depend on whether someone can spare the money. While some may say the changes in England have so far only been at the margins, it is the risk of a slippery slope that should cause concern.
In the US over recent decades, we have lived the challenges of a multi-tiered, for-profit healthcare system. Wealthier citizens can afford the best care. At the same time, in the same society, other citizens struggle to pay for care, sometimes choosing between food or medicine. Many rely on the emergency room for routine care. Many suffer the consequences of doing without healthcare. It is harder to maintain support for a public system when the wealthy rely on paying for better access to care.’
Andy Burnham was already concerned about the secret NHS re-organisation report.
“Before the last election, David Cameron promised no top-down re-organisation of the NHS and then embarked on the biggest ever -which wasted £3 billion.
“David Cameron should come clean with the British people about his plans for the NHS after the election. He commissioned a major report on how to change the way the health service is run but has buried the findings.
“They won’t tell us what’s in it. They won’t tell us what they plan to do with it.
“They won’t tell us what they plan to do with the NHS. But we do know one thing.
”We know who wrote it: the Conservative peer, Lord Rose.
“Lord Rose may be good at running supermarkets. But I say to David Cameron: you can’t run the NHS like a supermarket, we don’t want a supermarket health service, so publish this report and show us what is in your secret plan.’
The US doctors’ warning just underlined Andy Burnham’s fears.
“Now we have heard a stark warning of the truth of a second Tory term: an American-style health service where you have to pay to be seen, from the people who know what one looks like.
“David Cameron legislated without the permission of the public to allow English hospitals to earn up to half their income from treating private patients. The longer his Act stays in place, the more our hospitals will become like US hospitals.
“American doctors are sounding the alarm that what happens there is beginning to happen here: pay-as-you-go health care, coming soon to a hospital near you.
They know the signs. We know the signs.
We know where these Tory plans are leading us. The evidence is clear: a Tory second term means the stealth privatisation of the NHS.
”Labour will repeal David Cameron’s privatisation Act and put the right values back.”
Meanwhile, whilst all eyes have been on the election, the government has quietly shifted into stage two of NHS privatisation. Private Health firms are poised to take over billions of pounds worth of NHS decisions from GPs.
Ed Miliband today made clear the choice on Thursday:
“In the final days few days of this General Election, the future of the NHS is at risk in the way it hasn’t been for a generation.
“We know that if David Cameron wins a second term there will be a drive for more privatisation, more broken promises and more people waiting longer for treatment.
“In this election, you have the chance to put the NHS first by voting Labour on Thursday.
There is no bigger choice at this election than the future direction of our National Health Service, the bedrock of security for so many working people in our country.
“But our NHS is in huge danger. It’s fighting for its life because of choices this Government has made. We’ve got people queuing out the doors of GPs’ surgeries, unable to see a doctor, one million people last year waiting over 4 hours in A&E, seriously ill people lying on trolleys in corridors for hours on end, we’ve even seen a treatment tent put up in a hospital car park.
“David Cameron calls his record a success. It’s not a success. It’s a disgrace.“
“I know what makes the NHS strong: care, compassion and co-operation, not privatization, fragmentation and competition.
“So in our first 100 days we’ll put before Parliament a bill to repeal the Tories’ terrible Health and Social Care Act, stopping the drive towards privatisation.
And where private companies are involved in delivering NHS-funded clinical services, we will cap the profits they can take out of the public purse.
“This is part of Labour’s better plan for a better NHS, a plan that prepares our National Health Service for the challenges of the future, a fully-funded plan that’s built on solid foundations, a plan that can give our health service the time to care and give Britain the NHS we want: an NHS with people at its heart, an NHS that inspires the country; an NHS that will once again lead the world.”
But we’ll give the final word to the US doctors.
‘We caution the UK against moving in the direction of a system that has created the inequality in the US that we are now working to repair. Your universal, public healthcare system is an example to the world, and something of which Britain should be proud. We urge you to preserve it.’
Vote Labour on May 7.