Our NHS is already on life support, we can't afford to lose it

Our NHS is already on life support, we can't afford to lose it
Comment: Tory plans to inject corporate involvement into healthcare would see Britain's most vulnerable suffer the most, writes Malia Bouattia.
6 min read
29 Nov, 2019
'Johnson's deal would mean an end to healthcare as a public good', writes Bouattia [Getty]
You could be forgiven for asking how many more lies and broken promises it'll take before any real damage is done to the Tory Party's electability.

Earlier this week, Labour revealed that under Boris, the National Health service would in be fact for sale, despite claims to the contrary by Johnson and his clique. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pointed to unredacted documents of high-level trade talks between the Tory government and the US, which have been taking place since 2017. 

The details contained in the 451-page long document are shocking.

Tory post-Brexit plans would include longer drug patents which would increase the price of US produced drugs considerably, potentially costing the NHS up to $650,000 a week.

For a public service that has already been cut so severely, this would be catastrophic. "That's a green light for breaking open Britain's public services so corporations can profit from [them]"
stated Corbyn.

These negotiations show the direction of travel for our health service under a Johnson government. The US is seeking to gain much deeper entry into the UK pharmaceutical markets by seeking radical changes to the government's drug price regulations.

There should be no illusions over what this would mean. Indeed, this is how privatisation is often facilitated: By creating growing economic pressures on public services, which then serve as a justification for outsourcing to for-profit providers. 

We have a government that is ready to allow the companies from a country with one of the worst, most unequal healthcare systems in the developed world, to participate in replicating it in the UK, while also pricing out millions of people from their health services and treatment, all in the name of profit.

Access to care would become highly unequal and dependent on income

In 2016 it was announced that over 27 million people - a tenth of the population in the US - do not have health insurance. All because they either simply cannot afford it, have no means of receiving Medicaid (very limited insurance for those with a particularly low-income), don't live in one of the states which provides it, or are migrants. Since then, this number has continued to rise.

Bonnie Castillo, a nurse and the director of the largest US Nurses Union - National Nurses United (NNU) - recently painted a picture of the realities of US healthcare as she announced the union's endorsement of progressive candidate (the Corbyn of the US, if you will), Bernie Sanders.

"Nurses in this country are tired of watching our
cancer patients' lungs fill with fluid after being priced out of a medical intervention, of having to pull an insured patient off the table during a CT scan because the procedure "wasn't covered," of having to threaten to call the media before an uninsured child patient is allowed surgery" she wrote.

The uncontrolled involvement of US companies in the NHS, health insurance providers and drug policies in the context of a post-Brexit trade deal - which is exactly what the hundreds of leaked pages show - would mean an end to healthcare as a public good.

Instead, just like what has been done to every other privatised sector of our welfare services and state-owned enterprises; from transport to energy or education, access to care would become highly unequal and dependent on income, with the best healthcare eventually becoming a luxury for the wealthiest in society. 

Read more: Labour manifesto kisses goodbye to Blair's toxic legacy

Our NHS has already received so many blows over a nearly decade of Tory rule. There have been $7.7 billion in cuts to hospitals. The NHS is lacking a whopping 40,000 nurses, 10,000 hospital doctors and 7,000 general practitioners.

Hospital staff are overworked, underpaid (at times not paid at all for overtime) and facing severe pressure to continue their jobs with vanishing means. This pressure can also become unbearable for some. It has been reported that in the last seven years, 300 nurses committed suicide

To make matters worse, such a deal would be served to the US public as a victory for the US market, and an electoral gain for Trump. It would therefore not only set us back, but it would undermine the growing grassroots pressure across the United States for universal, state-funded healthcare.

In fact, the documents also highlight that the US government would provide advice on influencing public opinion on loosening food standards and regulation.

This only adds insult to injury. As well as undermining health provisions, the arrangement would also allow companies to flood the market with food that causes severe health risks, previously banned in Europe. The documents paint a dark future in which both sides involved in the talks are hoping to - in the words of the participants - "fly the good flag for services liberalisation".

Either way, the last nine years of Tory rule speak for themselves. They are strangling the NHS to death

And where is Johnson in all of this? Still feeding the tired old lie that, "the NHS is not on the table in any way".

There are literally hundreds of pages that prove otherwise. To make matters worse, the BBC and much of the mainstream media continue to give the Tories a pass.

Despite the explosive nature of the documents, there seems to be a concerted effort to keep it off the front pages and avoid it as a key topic for debate.

Alongside the BBC allowing Boris Johnson to avoid the scrutiny of a one-on-one interview, the bias of the British press against a radical social democratic Labour programme is at times flabbergasting. 

Hospital staff are overworked, underpaid and facing severe pressure to continue their jobs with vanishing means

Either way, the last nine years of Tory rule speak for themselves. They are strangling the NHS to death. Cutting billions, making it increasingly unable to function, turning public opinion against the service and staff because they are (shock, horror) not performing as well as when staff numbers were higher, wages were better, and hospitals were better equipped to save lives. 

The plans set out in the potential US-UK trade deals would therefore intensify the current direction of travel. Privatise and inject corporate involvement in every other aspect of healthcare, so that all that's really left of public service is the shell. The memory of the institution, but none of the values, policies and practice of a free national health service, accessible and effective for all. 

Yet, we have an opportunity to resist privatisation and the rule of the wealthy, resist cuts and divestment from public services, and resist a growing divide between rich and poor.

For the first time in our lives, at the ballot box on 12
 December, we will have an opportunity to vote for genuine reform, reinvestment, and a change of economic policy.

Until then, we need to rally around the Corbyn project, join mass canvassing initiatives, informing and urging all those around us to vote Labour, to not fall for the media's lies, and deliver a victory for the only candidate who will revitalise, protect and even strengthen our National Health Service, our welfare state, and take on the rich and powerful.  

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.