Lansleys Health Bill is a disaster of Titanic proportions warned UNISON, the UKs largest union, today (19 January). The union is calling on the Government to heed warnings from health professionals, MPs, staff, patients, charities, think-tanks and unions that the massive upheaval will destabilise the NHS. It will turn it into little more than a brand name that can be bought and sold, not a much valued public health service.
Karen Jennings, UNISON Head of Health, said:
“This Titanic health bill threatens to sink our NHS. The only survivors will be the private health companies that are circling like sharks, waiting to move in and make a killing.
“Lansley has turned his back on the warnings from across the medical establishment that these changes are unnecessary, undemocratic and unlikely to deliver improvements in patient care. We need a U-turn from the Government.
“It is time to turn up the heat on the public debate. These changes are undemocratic, they were not in any party manifesto and no one has been given the chance to vote on them.
“The NHS is a service that many take for granted now, but will not be able to in the future. As more private companies pile in to grab their share of the £80bn in taxpayers’ money the NHS will change from a publically run and accountable service, into a conglomerate of competing private companies outbidding the NHS for patients.
“We can already see this happening. We have KPMG being brought in to work with consortia across London and foreign companies like the American United Healthare being used by consortia in the South West and Hounslow.
“Unlike David Cameron, UNISON doesn’t believe the NHS is “second rate” – we believe it is second to none. And recent reports from the Commonwealth Fund and British Social Attitudes surveys confirm this.”
The changes will undo all the good that has been done in recent years: waiting times will shoot up; clinical networks (like cancer networks) that advise doctors on the best treatments will be lost; NICE will be undermined.
UNISON’s key concerns include:
· The reforms will be hugely expensive to implement at a time when the NHS is being told to save £20bn.
· Money that should be used to improve patient care will bleed out of the system into the hands of private companies.
· The reforms will open the NHS up to EU competition law – once services have left the NHS, there is no going back.
· Turning the regulator Monitor into a utilities style watchdog like Ofgem or Ofwat is completely inappropriate for a service built on care and compassion. The NHS needs to be regulated for quality of care not for the sharpness of privateers’ elbow.
· The massive structural upheaval and institutional chaos could leave the NHS unprepared to cope with crisis situations such as the swine flu pandemic.
· A postcode lottery will be allowed to develop – with no guarantee that your local NHS will continue to fund treatments that are not sufficiently profitable. We are already beginning to see cash-strapped PCTs cutting back on important cataract, knee and hip operations.
· NHS patients will be pushed to the back of the queue, as hospitals will be able to raise unlimited cash from private paying patients.
· Even NHS chief executive David Nicholson has warned of the perils of price competition and commentators from across the political spectrum agree than competing on price will mean that quality of care inevitably suffers as it did when the Tories last tried this in the 1990s.