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Having struggled through the COVID catastrophe, heroic NHS staff are now working flat-out to treat the millions on waiting lists. At the same time, private health providers are looking to profit from the crisis.
While hospitals struggle to recover from the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic, an ongoing backlog of 4.7 million patients brings a new threat to our ailing healthcare system. Meanwhile, private healthcare corporations rub their hands in glee at the prospect of further profits.
In response to the massive demands of tackling the pandemic, almost the entire capacity of the private health sector was bought up by the NHS. £400 million per month flowed from the public purse to private companies, to allow access to more beds and other resources.
Private sector CEOs bragged of ‘collaboration’, as public and private health care bodies ‘worked together’ to protect patients’ lives. Apparently, the much-maligned privatisation of the NHS was its saving grace during a time of need.
It should come as no surprise that these claims of private-public ‘unity’ are hollow and false. For the private sector bosses, the pandemic was a profit-making bonanza.
Some companies saw a 50% growth in their revenue from the NHS thanks to these public-private ‘partnerships’. While claiming to be ‘independent’ healthcare providers, many rely on the NHS for up to 80% of their income.
Instead of the so-called free market, private providers collude to extort vulnerable patients. Last year, private firm Spire Healthcare was fined £1.2 million for price-fixing. While tens of thousands died unnecessarily, these fat cats lined their wallets with public money.
A well-resourced NHS would render these one-sided ‘partnerships’ redundant. The private sector uses buzzwords like ‘collaboration’ and ‘partnership’ to hide the truth: this is a unity of the public purse with the bank accounts of the parasites.
Although many corporations are keen to continue this lucrative set-up for years to come, they stand to make money even if these deals fall through. Long waiting lists encourage patients to go private to ‘skip the queue’.
As one anonymous executive put it to the FT: “We don’t want to fill our hospitals with too much NHS work…the margins from private payers are much higher.”
This is the cold calculus of capitalism in medicine: margins matter more than treating disease.
The Tories have been unashamedly complicit in colluding with the private sector. Health Secretary Matt Hancock used a private ‘VIP’ Whatsapp group to coordinate PPE deals with dubious companies. While under-paid, overworked staff were forced to wear bin-bags due to PPE shortages, one contract fixer was paid £21 million for his ‘services’.
The SNP have been more shamefaced about the privatisation in NHS Scotland. Tens of millions of pounds have been paid to profit-seeking private providers to expand health service capacity, while the SNP claims to have drawn a red line on profiteering in the NHS.
Alongside ballooning waiting lists, it has been reported that there are 45,000 ‘missing cancer patients’ across the UK due to a drop in GP referrals and screening services. Cancers will inevitably be detected and treated later than they could have been, harming thousands.
Even when these patients are referred to hospital, many will not be seen on time. While COVID may have exacerbated this problem, data shows that services have struggled with efficiently treating patients for many years.
The health and social care sector has been decimated by over a decade of austerity, affecting resources and staff. The pathetic 1% pay rise offer for nurses is a spit in the face of those who sacrificed their lives to protect us. The 4% coughed up by the Scottish Government is not much better, and has provoked deep indignation among healthcare workers.
Even after our NHS staggers out of this pandemic, the colossal debts piled up during the pandemic will at some point need to be paid. The capitalist class will ensure that it will be workers – through cuts to their wages and their publicly-provided services – who will be made to pick up the bill.
It is argued that private hospitals help to ‘take the burden’ off the NHS. But the NHS wouldn’t need such ‘help’ if the healthcare facilities currently in private hands were instead part of the NHS. And, of course, if the NHS was properly funded and resourced.
Let’s be clear: this health emergency is avoidable. Right now, millions are waiting for procedures that would relieve them of pain and anxiety. We should be using all the facilities at society’s disposal to clear this backlog safely and quickly.
Instead, private hospital owners will only help if there is a guarantee of fat profits. They are effectively holding millions of the sick and vulnerable to ransom.
Instead of forking out millions from public funds to convince millionaire shareholders to help us, these companies should be urgently nationalised. In doing so, we could rapidly allocate resources to those in need.
- Nationalise all private sector healthcare assets without compensation!
- Pay our health heroes a fair wage!
- For a union-led mass recruitment drive of health workers!
Dr Raj Mistry, BMA (personal capacity), via Socialist Appeal
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