Posts Tagged ‘Alan Milburn’

Don’t Let Theresa May Privatise the NHS

June 8, 2017

This is the text of one of the self-published, table-top produced pamphlets I created a few years ago, and which are advertised on one of the other pages of this blog.

As you can see, it was written a year or so ago when David Cameron was in power. Nevertheless, it is still as valid now as it was then. Theresa May has not changed the Tory policy of privatising the NHS one whit.

So, please, read this article, and then vote for Jeremy Corbyn to preserve this most precious of British institutions.

Don’t Let Cameron Privatise the NHS
David Sivier

Visiting our local health centre the other day, my parents, along with the other local people enrolled there, were handed a letter, explaining that due to funding cuts the health centre was having to cut back on services. It also advised its patients that if they wanted to raise their concerns about the restriction in their service they could contact:-

1. NHS England at FAO Linda Prosser, Director of Assurance and Delivery, NHS England South West (BNSSG), 4th floor Plaza, Marlborough Street, Bristol BS1 3NX
2. your local MP at the House of Commons, Westminster, London SW1A 0AA

Unfortunately, this is happening to the NHS and GPs’ services all over the country. It is no accident, and it is certainly not the fault of the many dedicated doctors, nurses and other health professionals working in the NHS.
It is the result of over 30 years of privatisation begun with Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher and her former Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, denied that they wanted to privatise the NHS. They merely stated that they wanted to include more private provision in the NHS. This is a lie. Released cabinet minutes showed that Thatcher and Geoffrey Howe wanted to privatise the NHS along with abolishing the rest of the welfare state. They were only prevented from doing so because the rest of the cabinet realised that this would be the death knell for the Tory party. And a fact-finding mission to the US to see how their private healthcare system worked by Patrick Jenkin showed that it was massively inefficient.

Nevertheless, the amount of private healthcare in the NHS was expanded, and state provision duly cut by successive governments. It was Maggie’s government in 1989 that ended the state support for care for the elderly in nursing homes. As a result, the families of those, who need this kind of care, are forced to fund it themselves, often through selling or remortgaging their homes because of the immense expense. It was also Maggie’s government that ended free eye tests, and picked a feud with the doctors that saw the majority of them leave the NHS.

This privatisation has continued under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and now David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt. Blair and Brown were deeply impressed with American private healthcare firms such as Kaiser Permanente, and wished to reform the NHS on their model. The ultimate intention was to replace the publicly owned and operated NHS with private healthcare funded by the state, but administered by private health insurance companies. As a result, NHS work has been given to private hospitals and clinics, and private healthcare companies have been given NHS hospitals to manage. Alan Milburn, Blair’s health secretary, wanted the NHS to become merely a kitemark – an advertising logo – on a system of private healthcare companies funded by the government.

This has been carried on the current Conservative government. And they have used the same tactics Margaret Thatcher did to force private healthcare on this nation. The dispute with the doctors over contracts a few years ago was part of this. It has left the majority of NHS GPs wishing to leave. Yet elements within the Conservative networks responsible for foisting these demands have seen this as an opportunity for forcing through further privatisation. Penny Dash, of the National Leadership Network, and one of those responsible for the NHS privatisation, has looked forward to the remaining GPs forming private healthcare companies. Furthermore, an report on the Care Commissioning Groups now in charge of arranging healthcare in the NHS by one of the private healthcare companies also suggested that they could form private healthcare companies, and float shares on the stockmarket.

Further privatisation has come with Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care bill of 2012. This exempts the state and the Secretary of State for Health from their statutory duty, as the ultimate leaders of the NHS, to provide state health care. It is carefully worded to disguise its true meaning, but that is what has been intended by the bill. Dr David Owen, one of the founders of the SDP, now part of the Lib Dems, has tabled amendments trying to reverse this despicable bill. He and many others have also written books on the privatisation of the NHS. One of the best of these is NHS SOS, by Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis, published by Oneworld.
This process cannot be allowed to continue, and I strongly urge everyone to resist the creeping privatisation of the NHS, Britain’s greatest public institution.

In the last government, there were 92 Conservative and Lib Dem ministers, who advocated the privatisation of the Health Service, and who stood personally to gain from it. They included Iain Duncan Smith, the minister for culling the poor, the sick and the old. Andrew Lansley, the health minister, openly stated he is in favour of privatising it. So has Nigel Farage, and the Unterkippergruppenfuhrer, Paul Nuttall.

Farage in particular follows the Tory policy going all the way back to Thatcher of promising to defend it while secretly plotting how to sell it off. Thatcher ‘s review into the NHS and its funding in the 1980s. so alarmed Labour’s Robin Cook, that he wrote a Fabian pamphlet, Life Begins at 40: In Defence of the NHS, attacking possible proposals to privatise the Health Service.

Previous reviews had given the NHS a clean bill of health. The extremely high quality of the NHS and its doctors was recognised by the heads of American healthcare firms: Dr Marvin Goldberg, chief executive of the AMI health group, told a parliamentary select committee that the Health Service Provides ‘outstanding health care and British NHS hospitals are at least as good as those in America while British doctors are better.’

The then Conservative MP for Newbury, Michael McNair-Wilson, also testified to the effectiveness of the NHS. He had suffered kidney failure. He had private health insurance, but it did not cover operations such as the one he needed because of the expense. He said ‘I have cost the NHS tens of thousands of pounds – much more than I could have afforded privately … Had my treatment depended on my ability to pay, I would not be alive today.’

Pre-NHS Britain: Some Areas Completely Without Hospitals

Cook’s pamphlet also graphically described the patchwork state of healthcare in Britain before the NHS. In London, where there were plenty of paying customers, there could be hospitals in neighbouring streets. Out in the poorer British provinces, there were hardly any, and many operations were carried out not by surgeons but by GPs. He cites Julian Tudor Hart’s book, A New Kind of Doctor, to show how bad this could be. Hart described how he joined one of those practices in Kettering. One patient was left under anaesthetic as the London specialist operating on him was called away to continue a stomach operation on a London patient, which the operating GP had been unable to complete.
Cook was deeply concerned that the Tories’ review would not be at all interested in improving quality, only in opening up the NHS to the market and privatisation.

Cook on Private Health Insurance

One of the issues he tackled in the pamphlet was the possibility of the introduction of private health insurance. This covers two pages and a column and a bit in the original pamphlet. This is what he wrote, though emphases and paragraph titles are mine.

The mechanism proposed to square the incompatibility of health care with the market is insurance. All market approaches to the NHS submitted to the Review stress the case for much wider private insurance and almost as frequently propose subsidies to boost it.

Insurance-Based Systems Encourage Expensive Treatment

The first thing to be said is that private insurance does not offer
to health care the alleged benefits of the discipline of the market place. At the point when the individual requires treatment he or she has already paid the premiums and has no incentive not to consume as expensive a treatment as can be reconciled with the policy. The position of the doctor is even more prejudiced in that he or she has every incentive to obtain as much as possible from the insurance company by recommending the most expensive treatment. Both patient and the doctor are in a conspiracy to make the consultation as costly as possible, which is a perverse outcome for a proposal frequently floated by those who claim to be concerned about cost control.

Insurance-Based Systems Encourage Unnecessary Surgery

The compulsion in an insurance-based system to maximise the rate of return is the simple explanation why intervention surgery is so much more often recommended in the United States. For example, the incidence of hysterectomy there is four times the British rate. This is unlikely to reflect higher morbidity rates but much more likely to reflect the greater willingness of doctors on a piece-work basis to recommend it, despite the operative risks and in the case of this particular operation the documented psychological trauma. I can guarantee that an expansion of private insurance will certainly meet the objective on increasing expenditure on health care, but it is not equally clear that the money will be spent effectively.

Insurance-Based Systems Require Expensive bureaucracy to Check Costs

One direct diversion of resources imposed by any insurance-based scheme is the necessity for accountants and clerks and lawyers to assess costs and process claims. The NHS is routinely accused of excessive bureaucracy, frequently I regret to say by the very people who work within it and are in a position to know it is not true. Expenditure in the NHS is lower as a proportion of budget than the health system of any other nation, lower as a proportion of turnover
than the private health sector within Britain, and come to that, lower than the management costs of just about any other major enterprise inside or outside the public sector. I am not myself sure that this is a feature of which we should be proud. ON the contrary it is evidence of a persistent undermanaging of the NHS, which is largely responsible for its failure to exploit new developments in communication, cost control and personnel relations. Nevertheless, there is no more pointless expansion of administrative costs than the dead-weight of those required to police and process and insurance-based system. These costs would be considerable.

Forty per cent of personal bankruptcies in the US are attributable to debts for medical care

Part of this additional cost burden is incurred in the task of hunting down bad debts, which does not contribute in any way to the provision of health care. Forty per cent of personal bankruptcies in the US are attributable to debts for medical care, a salutary reminder of the limitations set to insurance cover. These limitations have three dimensions.

Insurance Cover Excludes Chronic and Long-Term Sick, and the Elderly

First, insurance cover generally excludes those conditions which are chronic and therefore expensive or complicated and therefore expensive. Standard exclusions in British insurance policies are arthritis, renal dialysis, multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy. Most people do not require substantial medical care until after retirement. Most insurance cover excludes the very conditions for which they are then most likely to require treatment. Short of retirement, the most expensive health care required by the majority of the population is maternity care, which is also excluded by the majority of insurance policies.

Private Healthcare Limits Amount of Care due to Cost, not Need

Secondly, insurance cover is generally restricted by upper limits which are arbitrary in every sense other than financial. I recently met a psychiatric consultant to a private clinic, who was prepared to discuss candidly the ethical dilemmas of treating patients whose financial cover is fixed at five weeks of residential care, but whose response to treatment may indicate that a longer period of hospitalisation is desirable.

Private Health Care Geared to Selling to Healthy not Sick

Thirdly, insurance cover is further limited by exclusion of those most likely to claim on it. I am often struck at the sheer healthiness of the patients who illustrate the promotional literature of BUPA and PPP who appear in such pink of good cheer and fitness that it is difficult to figure out why they are in a hospital bed. These models are though in a sense most suitable for the purpose as the objective of insurance companies is to attract the healthy. They therefore claim the right to screen for the unhealthy and reject them from cover. This discriminatory approach was defended earlier this month by the managing director of WPA, Britain’s third biggest health insurer, on the principled grounds that it meant ‘essentially healthy people are not penalised by unhealthy people.’ This statement has the advantage of originality in that it perceives healthy people as the vulnerable group and proposes a market remedy that protects them from the inconvenient costs of the unhealthy.
Given this limited character of health insurance in Britain, the private sector is patently not in a position to substitute for the NHS and to be fair most directors of BUPA or PPP would be horrified at the notion of accepting the comprehensive, open-ended liabilities of the NHS. It is therefore perplexing that so much effort in and around the Review appears to be addressed to the issue of how the private sector may be expanded rather than how the public sector may be improved. Two major devices are being canvassed to boost private cover-tax relief on private cover or opt-out from public cover, or for all I know both of them together. Both would be a major mistake.

Tax Relief on Private Healthcare

Tax relief is open to the obvious objection that it targets help most on those who need it least – the healthy who are most likely to be accepted for private cover and the wealthy whose higher tax rates make relief most vulnerable. These are curious priorities for additional health expenditure.

Tax Relief Does Not Create Higher Spending on Health Care

Moreover, even in its own terms of stimulating higher spending on health, tax relief is likely to prove an ineffective mechanism. If for example the average premium is £200 pa the cost of tax relief for 6 million insured persons will be £300 million. The numbers under insurance need to increase by a third before the increased spending on premiums matches the cost of the subsidy and provides any net increase in health spending. Up to that point it will always produce a larger rise in health spending to increase the budget of the NHS by a sum equivalent to the cost of tax relief.

It is apparently being mooted that these objections could be circumvented by limiting the tax relief to the elderly. At this point the proposal moves from the perverse to the eccentric. This restriction targets help for private insurance on the very group for whom private cover is most inappropriate as their most likely health needs are the ones most likely to be excluded from cover. Only a moment’s reflection is required on the multiple ways in which we need to expand our health provision for the elderly to expose the hopeless irrelevance of tax relief as the solution for them.

Opt-Out Penalises those who Remain in the System

Opt-out is even more objectionable. The basic problem with opt-out is that it requires the payment towards the NHS of every individual to be expressed in a manner that gives him or her something to opt-out from. The principal attraction to Leon Brittan of his proposal for an NHS insurance contribution appeared to be precisely that it paved the way for opting out (A New Deal for Health Care, Conservative Political Centre,, 1988). Nor is this inconvenience confined to the need for a whole new element in the tax system. If one in ten of the population chose to opt out, it would be remaining nine out of ten who would have to prove they were not opted-out when they went along to seek treatment. With the new contributions comes a requirement to maintain a record of payment of them, and presumably a mechanism for credits to those not in work but who do not wish to be counted has having opted out of the NHS.

Private Healthcare Undermine NHS as Universal System

The more fundamental objection both these proposals is they explicitly threaten the NHS as universal health service catering for everyone. Moreover, they threaten its universality in the worst possible way, by encouraging those with higher incomes and lower health needs to get out, leaving behind the less affluent and the less fit. In this respect such an approach to the NHS would be a piece with the Government’s strategy of erosion towards the rest of the social services-housing, pensions, and now education, where the Government has encouraged those who could afford it to opt-out of public provision, leaving behind the poor who could be expected to put6 up with a poor service.

This is the reality of the private healthcare system which Cameron, Clegg, Farage and the rest of the Right wish to introduce. It is expensive, bureaucratic, does not stimulating further spending, and excludes those with the most acute and expensive medical need, especially the elderly.
And the Tories and their counterparts in UKIP and the Lib Dems know it. Why else would the Tories spend their time trying to deny what they’re doing? Why does Farage appear to be advocating retaining the NHS, while arguing for an insurance based system, like America? It’s because they know that private medicine does not provide the solutions they claim. It is only source of further enrichment to them and their corporate donors.

And since Cook wrote that pamphlet, more than 20 per cent of all Americans can no longer afford their healthcare. It’s why the firms are trying to get their feet under the table over here. Don’t let them. Ed Miliband and now Jeremy Corbyn have promised to reverse the privatisation of the NHS. Please support them.

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My YouTube Video Urging People to Vote Labour to Defend the NHS

April 30, 2017

I’ve had my own YouTube channel for a few years now. I haven’t posted anything on there for quite a while, and most of the stuff I have posted up there is about archaeology, early musical instruments and few home-made space videos. However, today I put up a video urging people to vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour to prevent the Tories privatising the NHS.

I state that it began when Margaret Thatcher came to power as part of her campaign to dismantle the welfare state, but that Thatcher was stopped from doing so by her a cabinet revolt and her Personal Secretary, Patrick Jenkin. The cabinet realised that if she did privatise the NHS, it would immediately result in the Tories losing an election. Also, Jenkin went to America and realised just how bad the American system of private healthcare was. So Maggie settled for trying to expand private healthcare in Britain, aiming to have 25 per cent of the British people take out private health insurance.

A few years later in the 1980s there came a dispute between her and the dentists, which resulted in very many of them leaving the NHS. The result of that is that, while there still are NHS dentists, you need to look for them. And private dental care is not cheap. So people are going without proper dentistry.

After that, Peter Lilley in John Major’s administration introduced the Private Finance Initiative, under which private corporations build and manage hospitals for the NHS. It’s essentially a scheme to keep the costs of construction and management off the books. In practice it’s massively more expensive than simply having them build by the state. Those hospitals, clinics and other medical services built through it also tend to be smaller than through ordinary hospitals built by the state. See the chapter in George Monbiot’s Captive State. This was all done to open up the NHS to private investment.

This programme was expanded by Tony Blair, as he, like the Tories, was approached by private healthcare firms such as Unum, Virgin Health, Circle Health and BUPA to privatise more NHS services. His health secretary, Alan Milburn, wished to reduce the NHS to a kitemark for services provided for the state by private healthcare companies. He split the NHS up and handed its management to CCGs – Community Care Groups. This was supposed to be giving doctors greater freedom and more choice. However, it doesn’t do this as most doctors simply don’t have enough time to spend on administration. The CCGs were given the power to raise money privately, and commission services from private healthcare providers. Again, hospitals and the health centres or polyclinics Blair also built were also to be managed by private companies.

This programme did not stop when David Cameron’s new Conservative government was voted into power in 2010. Cameron had claimed that he going to stop further cuts in the NHS. He didn’t. He expanded the privatisation programme even further. The 2012 healthcare act formulated by his health minister, Andrew Lansley, is a convoluted document, but it removes the Health Secretary from having to provide medical services. Furthermore, the Tories have also passed legislation allowing the NHS to charge for services, even ambulance care. And this is still going ahead under Theresa May.

There is a real danger that the NHS will be abolished, and the country will return to the way it was before the Labour government introduced it. Private healthcare is not more economical and efficient than state healthcare. Private insurance companies and hospitals spend much more on management, including advertising, legal teams and simply trying to raise money from investors, to make sure their shareholders see a profit. There are about 50 million Americans without health insurance. 33,000 Americans die every year from lack of medical care. And it was like that before the NHS, when the charity hospitals, where people were sent if they didn’t have private health insurance, or weren’t covered by the state health insurance scheme, spent much of their time trying to raise money. And millions of people were denied healthcare, because they couldn’t afford it.

Jeremy Corbyn has said that he will renationalise the NHS. Dr. David Owen has also sponsored a bill to renationalise the NHS. They need our support. And so, if you want to keep the NHS, you should vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

For further information, see the following books:
NHS-SOS, edited by Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis (London: OneWorld 2015)
Dr. Youseff El-Gingihy, How to Privatise the NHS in 10 Easy Steps (Zed Books)
and my own, Privatisation: Killing the NHS, published by Lulu.

Vox Political: Hospitals Overstretched, but Chief Nursing Officer Wants Beds Cut

January 7, 2017

Yesterday Mike also put up a story commenting on a tweet by Clive Peedell, of the NHS Action Party. Peedell was justifiably outraged by the attitude of the Chief Nursing Officer, Janet M. Cummings. At a time when the NHS is seriously overstretched because of a shortage of beds, Cummings decided that the number of Acute beds should be cut. Peedell stated that she should resign. Mike concurs, but asks if anyone knows the procedure for how to make the public’s feelings known about this.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/01/06/hospitals-warn-over-patient-numbers-while-nursing-officer-wants-bed-numbers-cut-contradiction/

Unfortunately, Cummings isn’t the only senior official within the NHS, who seems determined to destroy public healthcare. Back when Blair was P.M., the head of NHS strategy was Dr Penny Dash, who was as keen as Blair was to privatise the health service. In 2002 she wrote an article in the Graun about how the government should encourage consultants, surgeons

and indeed other groups of doctors, to form their own companies (or join existing private health providers) to sell their services back to the NHS.

She continued

Freed from the stifling grip of the NHS, these would be able to perform procedures in either the NHS or private hospitals, and would be able to form businesses of their own, raise capital, invest in new technology, or join up with the suppliers of such, and then would be able to offer a ‘full service solution’ to failing NHS hospitals. This, she claimed, could be the development that Blair and Milburn really wanted. (See Stewart Player, ‘Ready for Market’, in Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis, NHS-SOS, pp. 46-7). You won’t be surprised to learn that after leaving the Department of Health, Dash went off to work for McKinsey, the American private insurance giant. She played a leading role in producing the two ‘Darzi’ reports recommending limiting NHS provision in London, and the system of privately run polyclinics. (p. 60).

And then in 2006, there was the establishment of the National Leadership Network of 150 health policy makers, management consultants, NHS Trust and private healthcare executives, as well as medical professionals, leaders and regulators, to ‘provide collective leadership for the next phase of transformation, advise ministers on developing policies and promote shared values and behaviours.’ And one of the first documents they produced, recommending the introduction of privatised services shared between the NHS and private sector, was Strengthening Local Services: The Future of the Acute Hospital. It seems to me that Cummings is a product, one way or another, of that network.

Mike wrote an article earlier this week stating very clearly that there was a toxic culture at the top of the NHS. It started with Blair, and its grown and expanded with Cameron, May and the Conservatives, aided by the Lib Dems. The only person, who has shown they genuinely want to roll back the privatisation of the NHS to Jeremy Corbyn.

He needs our support.

And the others need to be kicked out.

Pro-NHS Political Comment in Paul McAuley’s ‘Something Coming Through’

December 27, 2016

something-coming-pic

One of the books I’ve been reading this Christmas is Paul McAuley’s Something Coming Through (London: Gollancz 2015). McAuley’s a former scientist as well as an SF writer. Apart from novels, he also reviewed books and contributed short stories to the veteran British SF magazine, Interzone. He was one of the writers who created the gene punk genre, sometimes also called ‘ribofunk’. This was the genetic engineering counterpart to Cyberpunk, where, instead of using computers, individuals, criminals and corporations used genetic engineering to redesign new forms of life, or spread invasive memes throughout the population to control the way people thought. Back in the 1990s he was one of the guests on the BBC Radio 3 series, Grave New Worlds, in which computer scientists, writers and artists talked about the transhuman condition. This was back when everyone was talking about cyborgisation, and the potential of contemporary technology to produce new varieties of humanity. Apart from McAuley, the guests also included J.G. Ballard and the performance artist Stelarc, who has personally explored the implications of cybernetics for the human body in a series of performances. In one of these he had a mechanical third arm, operated through electrical signals picked up through the stomach muscles. He also gave a modern music performance, in which he was wired up to the internet via galvanic stimulators. A search engine then went about finding images of body parts on the Net. When it found one, that part of the body was electronically stimulated so that it moved. There were also booths in three cities around the world, where participants could also press buttons to move Stelarc via electric impulses. Apart from Kevin Warwick, the professor of robotics at Warwick university, is the person who’s come the closest to being Star Trek’s Borg.

McAuley’s Something Coming Through and its sequel, Into Everywhere, follow the fictional universe he created in a series of magazine short stories about the alien Jackaroo and their impact on humanity. Following a short period of warfare, including the destruction of part of London with a nuclear bomb by terrorists, the Jackaroo turned up and declared that they wish to help. These aliens bring with them 15 artificial wormholes, which act as gateways to 15 worlds, which the Jackaroo give to humanity. Humanity isn’t the only race that the aliens have helped, and the worlds they give to humanity are covered with the ruins and artefacts of previous alien civilisations, now vanished. The Jackaroo themselves are never seen. They interact with humanity through avatars, artificial beings that look like human men. These have golden skin and features modelled on a number of contemporary celebrities. They’re also bald, wear shades, and dress in black track suits. Their motives for helping humanity are unclear. They claim they just want to help, and that it is up to humanity themselves how they use the worlds they have given them. But they are widely suspected of having their own agenda, and despite the protestations of non-interference they are suspected of subtly manipulating humanity.

Accompanying the Jackaroo are the !cho, another alien race, who are equally mysterious. They move about the world in opaque tanks supported on three skeletal legs. Nobody has ever managed to open one up, or scan the tanks using X-rays or ultrasound. It is, however, widely believed that the !cho are sentient colonies of shrimp. Their motives, and their relationship with the Jackaroo, are also unknown.

Something Coming Through follows the adventures of Chloe Millar, a researcher for a company, Disruption Theory, in London, and Vic Gayle, a cop on Mangala, one of the Jackaroo gift worlds. The objects and ruins left from the Jackaroo’s previous client civilisations can be highly dangerous. Some of them are still active, despite the many thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions of years of abandonment and decay. These can infect humans with memes, algorithms that alter psychology and behaviour. The strongest, most intact of these become eidolons, artificial entities that can take possession of their human hosts. Disruption Theory is a company specialising in researching the effects of these memes as they break out to infect people in Britain. This often takes the form of small sects, whose leaders speak in tongues, uttering nonsense as they try to put in human terms the alien concepts running their consciousness. Millar, the heroine, is investigating a couple of orphaned Pakistani children, who have apparently been infected by an eidolon from one of the gift worlds. Out on Mangala, Vic Gayle is also investigating the murder of a man, who has recently arrived aboard one of the Jackaroo’s shuttles.

Unlike much SF, the book doesn’t indicate how far in the future the story’s set. This is, however, very much a world not too far from the early 21st century of the present. The political structures are much the same, with the exception that the gift worlds are under the control of the UN. People still work in recognisable jobs, and shop and purchase the same brands of clothing. Complicating relations with the Jackaroo is a British politician, Robin Mountjoy and the Human Decency League. The League objects to contact with the Jackaroo as a danger to the dignity of the human race. Their leader, Robin Mountjoy, is described as being ‘in his mid-fifties, a burly man with thinning blond hair and a florid complexion, dressed in an off-the-peg suit. Although he was a multimillionaire, having made his fortune constructing and servicing displaced-persons camps, his PR painted him as a bluff, no-nonsense man of the people whose common sense cut through the incestuous old boys’ networks of the Westminster village’. (p. 51). The League isn’t strong enough to form a government of its own, and so has gone into a coalition with the Conservatives. While Mountjoy is clearly fictional, he does seem to be inspired by Nigel Farage and UKIP, with Britain attempting to gain independence from smooth talking mysterious aliens rather than the EU.

One of the other characters is Adam Nevers, a cop with the Technology Control Unit. This is the branch of the British police tasked with protecting the country from dangerous alien technology. Nevers is described as coming from the entitled upper ranks of society, who go straight from university into high ranking jobs. Which looks to me very much like a comment on the privileged upbringing and expectations of absolute deference and entitlement from certain members of the British upper classes.

Apart from the social and psychological disruption caused by alien contact, this is also a world wear the NHS has finally been privatised. McAuley shows the practical impact this has people’s lives. Without the safety net of state healthcare, people are dependent on their employers to help pay their medical bills, or borrowing money from friends. In his acknowledgements, as well as the many other people who helped him with the book, McAuley also thanks ‘the NHS for life support’. (p. 375). Which suggests that he’s also suffered a period of illness, and is very much aware how much he and everyone else in the country needs the NHS.

I liked the book for its convincing portrayal of the world after sort-of personal contact with an alien civilisation, and the frontier societies that have emerged as Mangala and the other gift worlds have been settled and colonised. I was also fascinated by McAuley’s description of the alien life-forms, and the archaeological exploration of the remains of the planets’ previous civilisations for the technological advances these artifacts offer. I was also drawn to it as it offered a different take on the old SF trope of alien contact. The appearance of the Jackaroo is described as an ‘invasion’, but it’s not really that. The aliens have a ‘hands off’ approach. They haven’t conquered the Earth militarily, and political power is still exercised through traditional human institutions and parties, like the UN and the Tories. Nor are they more or less at our technological level, like many of the alien races in Star Trek, for example. We don’t form an interplanetary federation with them, as they are clearly extremely far in advance of humanity, which is very much the junior partner in this relationship.

It’s not really a political book, and really doesn’t make any overt party political statements. With the exception that rightwing xenophobes would probably form a party like UKIP to join the Conservatives against pernicious alien influence, just like the Kippers under Farage came very much from the right wing, Eurosceptic section of the Tories. But its comments on the class nature of British society does bring a wry smile, and its advocacy of the NHS is very welcome. It doesn’t preach, but simply shows the fear the characters have of sickness or injury in its absence.

And with all too real terrestrial morons like Daniel Hannan, Jeremy Hunt, Dave Cameron, Theresa May, Tony Blair, Alan Milburn and the rest of the right-wing politicos, who have done and still are doing their best to undermine the health service, such comments are badly needed throughout the British media.

Vox Political: Tories Nudging People into Paying for Healthcare and Part-Privatisation of Hospitals

December 21, 2016

On Monday Mike also put up a very alarming post about the numbers of patients that have chosen to pay for private treatment in NHS hospitals. Previously, the number of private patients NHS hospitals could take was capped at 2 per cent. The Tories have passed legislation allowing hospitals to raise 49 per cent of their income from private patients. In the last four years, the number of patients choosing to pay has risen to 23 per cent. Most of these are people desperate to avoid long waiting lists. The figures reveal that the number of people waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment has risen by 54 per cent.

Mike makes the point that he is not surprised people are paying for private care on the NHS, because the Tories have tried to ‘nudge’ people into going private because of the way they are deliberately underfunding the NHS to create the long waiting lists patients wish to avoid. as Mike says

They are softening us up for full NHS privatisation.

Mike makes the point that he doesn’t blame those, who have chosen to pay. But those who cannot afford to pay must still wait. And if the NHS is fully privatised, they will be unable to afford healthcare.

He also makes the point that it is unknown what sacrifices people are making now, in order to pay for the healthcare.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/19/the-evil-tory-policy-that-nudges-people-into-paying-for-their-healthcare/

This is a very important article, as it shows how far we are teetering over the precipice of a fully private healthcare system.

This follows more than three decades of Thatcherite policy. Thatcher wanted to privatise the health service, but was prevented by a cabinet revolt. And also that her personal secretary, Patrick Jenkin, had told her just how bad private medicine worked after she had sent him to investigate it in America. She therefore contented herself with setting the target of getting 25 per cent of the British public to take out private health insurance.

This was followed by the gradual, piecemeal privatisation of parts of the NHS, beginning with opticians and dentistry, the introduction of privately managed hospitals under PFI during John Major’s occupation of No. 10, and then the further privatisation of the NHS by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Alan Milburn wanted the NHS to be a just a kitemark on services provided by purely private medical firms. The Blairites passed legislation splitting the NHS up into Community Care Groups, which can also raise money through private means, and encouraging NHS trusts to buy in services from private healthcare contractors. The policlinics and health centres they encouraged to be built were intended to be operated privately. This policy has been extended and advanced even further by Jeremy Hunt and the Tories. Hunt has even publicly attacked the NHS, stating that it should be broken up and privatised.

As for what happens when people cannot afford healthcare, and the sacrifices they have to make, you only have to look at America. About 20 per cent of the US population were unable to afford medical care before Obama introduced Obamacare. Medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy, or at least one of the top three, in the US. A study in Texas of the poor, who were unable to afford medical treatment, investigated how they coped. They found that people borrowed drugs from neighbours, or, in a small number of cases, used medicine intended for animals they acquired from vets.

A Tory friend of mine, who hates private medicine, told me some real horror stories he’d heard about America. Over there, some people with a terminal illness, have chosen to forgo treatment, as this would eat up the money they wish to pass for their children.

And he also had a few sharp things to say about the Australian healthcare system. He believed that if a person called for medical treatment for someone, who didn’t have insurance, the person calling for the treatment could be saddled with the bill. And so there is a strong disincentive for people not to call for medical aid, including for those seriously ill.

If the Tories realise Thatcher’s dream of privatising the health service, this will come to Britain. Don’t let it.

The Threatened Return of Tony Blair to British Politics

November 23, 2016

The I newspaper today carried the news that Tony Blair wants to return to British politics. Apparently, the former PM thinks that his reputation is ‘recoverable’. There wasn’t much more to the piece than that, the rest of the small snippet being composed of two other newspapers reactions to this news. One of them quoted Owen Jones, the author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, who claimed that without Blair making Britain join Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the Labour party would not be led by Jeremy Corbyn today.

I can see his point. Blair’s participation in an illegal war, which has turned the country into a blood bath, facilitated the rise of Daesh, and led to the deaths of so many brave men and women, simply so the multinationals and the Saudis can loot the country’s oil and other industries, is one of the major reasons why voters became increasingly disenchanted with the Labour party and its Tory leadership. But there were many other reasons besides.

Basically, Blair was responsible for many of the disastrous policies that are gutting our precious health and school systems. They were expanded by Cameron, and are being carried on apace by Theresa May, but Blair was responsible for starting them.

These policies include

* The privatisation of the NHS, with the piecemeal dismantlement of the Health Service into ‘community care groups’, intended to be able to commission private health care companies to provide medical services; the expansion of the Private Finance Initiative, launched by the Tories’ Peter Lilley, which has burden hospitals with massive debts, all for the profit of private companies; deliberate outsourcing of medical services to private healthcare companies; and the establishment of ‘polyclinics’ or walk-in medical centres, again as private firms. Alan Milburn had the goal of reducing the NHS to a kitemark on services provided by private healthcare providers.

* The launch of the disastrous academies. These were set up by Blair as City Academies, and based on an idea Norman Baker rolled out under Thatcher, but which had to be abandoned because even they realised it was rubbish. The academies are monstrously expensive, in many cases costing nearly ten times as much as the budget given to the LEA for all the schools in its catchment area. They are highly selective, and in many cases also extremely discriminatory, using mass expulsions and exclusion to get rid of difficult pupils, or students, who are less able than their fellows, in order to keep their academic ratings artificially high. Despite this, about 80 per cent of them are no better than the LEA schools against which they compete, and the excellent results of the other 20 per cent are no more than you would expect, if each individual state school received £20-£30 million in funding.

* The massive expansion of corporate power into the mechanism of government, with unelected managing directors and company heads being given positions on government committees and quangos.

* Massive backing for the supermarkets, despite these harming local businesses and exploiting their suppliers through highly unfair and manipulative contracts.

* Continuing the Tory policy of deregulating and favouring the financial sector, with the result that all the safeguards that could have prevented the 2008 crash were removed. And that led to the current situation, where ordinary people are being pushed further into poverty, while the bankers are back enjoying massive bonuses and corporate bail-outs.

* The further cutting of the benefits system, including the introduction of the Work Capability Tests, which have seen tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of disabled people thrown off benefits, declared ‘fit for work’, and left to struggle and die in poverty. Several hundred have so far died as a direct result of being left without an income due to these tests.

* Privatisation of the prison service. Blair was approached and lobbied by American private prison operators, like Wackenhut, about handing the running of British prisons over to them.

* The passage of further legislation intended to weaken whatever remained of the power of trade unions.

* Oh yes, and the privatisation, or at least the part-privatisation, of the Post Office.

He was also responsible for the further, massive expansion of the surveillance state, secret courts and expanding the length of time prisoners can be held without charge.

I realise that these policies weren’t new. Many of them, like the PFI and the City Academies, were recycled Tory ideas, as were his privatisations, including the NHS, and the welfare reforms, which were deliberately intended to cut welfare support to the unemployed and long-term sick. But Blair did not have a mandate for them, and in opposition had explicitly condemned them. And in fact, Blair 1997 election victory was such that he could have comfortably reversed them with no threat of losing votes to the Tories.

But he didn’t. He carried on with the policies he’d inherited from Thatcher and Major, policies which have been in turn passed on and expanded by Cameron and May. These policies also played no small part in creating the disenfranchisement of large sections of the working class from British politics, and alienating traditional, working class Labour voters as Blair chased the votes of the middle class and rich. And these policies on their own should be enough to make people heartily sick and tired of him. Coupled with his illegal, murderous wars in the Middle East, they present an overwhelming argument against him making a comeback.

Blair possibly believes that if he returns to British politics, his presence will be enough to rally the neoliberal troops in the Labour party, oust Jeremy Corbyn, and make the party ‘electable’, or rather, palatable to Britain’s corrupt, bloated and exploitative establishment again.

Let’s show the vile, corporate warmonger that he’s very, very wrong.

Lib Dems Aim at Winning Blairites from Labour

September 21, 2016

Also in the I newspaper today, right opposite the report about the three pro-Corbyn councillors, who have been suspended from the local party in Bristol, was the news that the Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made a bid to win over right-wing Labour voters in his speech at their party conference.

The article states

Tim Farron cast himself as the heir to Tony Blair yesterday as he delivered a direct appeal to disillusioned Labour voters to switch allegiance to the Liberal Democrats.

Only his party can prevent a 25-year-long Conservative “stranglehold over government”, he insisted in his keynote speech to the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton.

Mr Farron coupled praise for many of Tony Blair’s achievements in office with a stinging attack on Jeremy Corbyn for viewing winning general elections as a “bourgeois distraction”…

Targeting the centrist Labour supporters, the Lib Dem leader said he believed Mr Blair made many serious mistakes, but admired him for achievements such as investing in schools and hospitals and introducing the national minimum wage.

“I respect him for believing that the point of being in politics is to get stuff done, and you can only get stuff done if you win. Otherwise, you’re letting your opponent get stuff done instead, ” Mr Farron said.

Farron and his supporters are keen to promote the idea that the party is undergoing a revival after losing all but eight seats in the elections last year. The same article quotes him as saying that by next year, his party will be the only thing standing between another Tory election victory.

But Farron has already confirmed my negative opinion of his party, and my decision that I won’t vote for them. Tony Blair and his supporters aren’t centrists. By the standards of the 1980s, they’re actually extreme right-wing Tories. I don’t mean they’re extreme right in that they’re racist, misogynist or hate gays. They’re not. But they are extremely right-wing in that they took over Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberal policy of privatising everything she could, including parts of the NHS. Blair took this over and massively expanded it. Alan Milburn wanted to reduce the health service to a logo on services provided by the private sector. See NHS-SOS by Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis. As for investing in hospitals, this is a moot point that needs qualification. Blair did invest in hospitals under the PFI initiative, a policy set up by that prancing snob Peter Lilley deliberately to open up the NHS to private investment. Under the PFI, the hospitals built are smaller than those constructed using conventional financing methods, and are actually much more expensive. These costs are met by closing and amalgamating other hospitals. Farron might consider these as mistakes, but they are an integral part of the system. Blair was responsible for closing down local hospitals in order to create a part-privatised system that was more wasteful than the previous, wholly state-owned, state-funded NHS. But it got him plaudits from the Right as the true anointed heir of Thatcher, barrels of money given to him and his continuity group, Progress, from donors in the private medical industry.

Much the same could be said of his education policy. This essentially consisted of the Simpering Scrounger taking over Norman Baker’s policy of city colleges outside the Local Education Authorities, which even the Tories ditched as a useless dud. Just as he did with Anderson Consulting, who had also been ditched by the Tories, Blair picked them up and adopted the policy as his own. The only difference is that he tried to make the wretched scheme look better by calling them ‘city academies’ and then just ‘academies’. Like the PFI hospitals, they’re massively more expensive than ordinary schools. They can cost something like £24-35 million, far more than the funding given to LEAs for all the schools they have to run. And like the PFI hospitals, it’s another part-privatisation where the taxpayer effectively picks up the bill. They’re given over to the management of second-rate entrepreneurs, often with extreme dodgy ideas on what counts as proper education. Poor, and children with exceptional needs, like the less academic, or disruptive pupils, are not taken, or expelled at an alarming rate in order to keep the wealthy, intellectually able kids the schools needs to show they’re improving standards. But they don’t. They’re actually little better than state schools. Where they have improved standards, it’s simply due to the vastly larger funding they’ve been given. These would have also improved standards in state schools, if they had been so fortunate as been given them. See Francis Beckett’s The Great City Academy Fraud.

The only person, who’s shown a genuine commitment to restoring standards and the integrity of our schools and health service, after these have been decimated by nearly four decades of Tory and New Labour misrule, is Jeremy Corbyn. By aiming to win the Blairites over to his party, Farron has shown that he effectively supports all the policies Blair and the Tories have done ever since Maggie. The rise of mass starvation in our society, and the incalculable poverty, disease and despair that will result if the Tories’ privatisation of the NHS goes ahead, show that these are policies are country cannot afford. Like the Tories, the Lib Dems should not be given any power in forthcoming elections.

American Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein’s Universal Healthcare Advert

August 7, 2016

After Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Socialist candidate to be the Democrats’ presidential nominee was blocked by the Democratic party machine and its head, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, many of those on the left wing of the party have increasingly turned to the Greens and their presidential candidate, Jill Stein. Stein also stands for expanding the minimal welfare provision, social justice and universal healthcare as well as protecting the environment. In this short video, Stein pledges her support for universal Medicare. The video notes that 58 per cent of the American people want something like Britain’s NHS. She makes the point that she’s a medical doctor, who’s acutely aware of how poverty affects people’s healthcare. She states that Obamacare has added another layer of bureaucracy to the system, and as it’s in the hands of private insurers, these companies can decided who to keep on their books and who to reject as they can’t afford it. She promises a full healthcare, which will cover opticians and dentistry, as well as mental and reproductive health.

This is exactly what the Blairites in the Labour party, and the Tories since Margaret Thatcher, have been trying to deprive the British public. Thatcher wanted to dismantle the welfare state, including the NHS. Alan Milburn wanted the NHS to become only a kitemark for healthcare services provided by private healthcare companies. And Owen Smith wrote a pro-privatisation puff piece when he was working for Pfizer.

And like Jeremy Corbyn over here, Dr. Stein has similarly been smeared. It’s been claimed that she’s ‘anti-science’, which is rich coming from an American political establishment which denies climate change, using very selective research sponsored by the oil giants. In an interview on Watching the Hawks over at RT, Dr Stein talks about this, and how she authored a book, along with other socially aware medical doctors, discussing the threats to children’s developmental health from pollution and so on. Apparently, her Conservative opponents tried telling everyone that she was against vaccination. She states firmly that when she and her colleagues looked at the list of health threats to children, vaccines ‘weren’t even on the list, so I don’t where they got that from.’

The neoliberal consensus is facing a radical challenge and the supposed ‘left-wing’ establishment, both here and in the US, is running scared. But it’s radical politicians like Sanders, Stein and Corbyn that are injecting new life into politics and justly attacking a corrupt and oppressive system.

Vox Political on Owen Smith and the Privatisation of the NHS

July 21, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece discussing Owen Smith’s contradictory attitudes towards the NHS. Smith claims he believes in a ‘100 per cent’ publicly owned NHS, and hugely admires Nye Bevan. Except eleven years ago, when he was working as a PR man for the drug giant, Pfizer. The company had produced a report endorsing the policy of opening up the NHS to private companies. Smith declared “We believe that choice is a good thing and that patients and healthcare professionals should be at the heart of developing the agenda.” Smith’s endorsement of creating greater private sector involvement in the NHS had been revealed by the Times, whom he accused of doing ‘a hatchet’ job, and he was challenged about his comments on Radio 4. That was when he spoke about believing in a publicly owned NHS. He has also said that he would prevent further involvement of private companies in the NHS. As for his comments in 2005, he tried to shrug them off, saying that this was when Labour was using ‘choice’ to describe hip, knee and cataract operations. He also claimed that it was a gross distortion to refer to a report commissioned by Pfizer before he worked there. Mike points out that this is immaterial. The date the report was commissioned is irrelevant, as Smith was working for Pfizer when it was published, and he date make the comments endorsing it.

Mike also makes the point that the Tories – Andrew Lansley, Jeremy Hunt and now probably Theresa May, have all made speeches stating that they believe in a nationalised health service, while doing everything they can to privatise it. And stating that he would prevent further public sector involvement is also contrary to what the masses of Labour supporters actually want, which is that privatisation should be reversed and the private sector removed from the NHS.

Mike has also put up a couple of memes pointing out the contrasts between what Smith says, and what he does. For example, he says he is against nukes, but votes for Trident. He states that he is against austerity, but doesn’t vote against austerity measures. He also can’t make up his mind on whether he supported the Iraq invasion or not.

Mike also quotes the report on this in the Guardian, which says But he conceded that Labour made a mistake while in power for the way it communicated the use of private providers in the NHS.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/21/owen-smiths-vision-for-the-nhs-is-the-same-as-the-conservative-partys/

There’s a considerable amount of deliberate falsehood and distortion in Smith’s statements, beyond what Mike has identified. Firstly, New Labour was committed to a policy of NHS extensive NHS privatisation. NHS – SOS by Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis provides extensive evidence that Blair’s Labour party wanted to privatise the NHS and introduce a system of insurance-funded healthcare similar to that in America. It was not simply a case of private companies performing a limited range of operations, such as knee and hip operations. Furthermore, New Labour, like Maggie Thatcher and the Tories before them, realised that if they made the extent of their plans to privatise the NHS public, they’d lose the election. Hence they were very keen to keep the whole process quiet. Remember – Alan Milburn stated that he wanted to keep the NHS as a logo for services delivered by private companies under an NHS ‘brand’. So Smith’s endorsement of NHS privatisation, along with the official policy of the Labour party at the time, was much more radical than he is now claiming.

Whatever Smith says now about supporting a publicly owned NHS is false. He supported its privatisation over a decade ago, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that his views have changed since, or are substantially much different from those of his Conservative opponents.

From 2002: Kaiser Healthcare Lobbies for NHS Work

January 31, 2015

Private Eye published this article below in their edition for 12th – 25th July 2002. It discusses the lobbying of the then-Labour government for NHS contracts by Kaiser Permanente, a US private healthcare company. As a private company, Kaiser Permanente did not provide cover for the poorest fifth of the US population. This is pretty much indicative of the companies now queuing up for access to the health service, now being privatised piecemeal by the Tories. And if this continues, this is how British healthcare will look after the NHS is privatised.

Hail Kaiser!

While health ministers inside the House of Commons continue to accuse the Tories of intending to privatise the NHS, outside the Commons they themselves are showing increasing sign of sympathy with moves to, er, privatise the NHS.
In
Eye 1056 we referred to a paper in the British Medical Journal by American doctors pointing out the advantages of Kaiser Permanente, a huge private health organisation in California with keen ambitions to expand in the UK.

On 20 June the annual lecture of the Office of Health Economics, financed entirely by the drugs industry, was delivered in the prestigious headquarters of the Royal College of Physicians. The speaker was David Lawrence, departing chief executive of Kaiser Permanente. He outlined the tremendous advantages of providing health care the Kaiser way, without making any effort to deal with the chief objection: that as a private organisation financed by private insurance, Kaiser cannot and does not provide health care for the poorest 20 percent of California’s population.

The NHS, on the other hand, does not exclude anyone on grounds of income or wealth. The Eye’s many spies at the lecture, which was packed with representatives of the drug companies (though the health department was conspicuous by its absence), describe Dr Lawrence’s performance as “long on charm, short on facts.”

Almost simultaneously, and naturally by coincidence, the authors of the original pro-Kaiser paper in the BMJ have replied in that journal to the loud and almost universal criticism of it from defenders of the NHS. Somehow, rather like Dr Lawrence, the fails to deal with the main and obvious criticism that Kaiser does not provide health care for the poorest (and therefore usually the sickest) fifth of the population.

In his speech Lawrence referred several times to his cooperation with and admiration for “Don” – believed to be a reference to Don Berwick, a keen American medical privatiser who has just been appointed by the government to the National Health Service modernisation board.

Meanwhile more news about Kaiser comes to the Eye from the Los Angeles Times whose 17 May issue carried the curious headline: KAISER CLERKS PAID MORE FOR HELPING LESS. The paper revealed that in 200 and 2001, call centre clerks working for Kaiser could earn bonuses of up to 10 percent of their salaries if they spent less than three minutes 45 seconds on the phone per patient.

The call centres were available to Kaiser’s three million members in Northern California. The bonus system was denounced by the California Nurses Association, representing Kaiser’s registered nurses. They complained that the call centre system allowed unlicensed telephone clerks to make decisions about scheduling appointments or referring patients to medical advice nurses. The association claimed such a task was restricted by state law to “licensed medical personnel”. The newspaper also quotes a doctor at one of the call centres describing the system as “a barrier between patients and their clinical providers”.

While a substantial section of the medical establishment sucks up to Kaiser, there are increasing signs of the close relationship between the government, the Labour party and the private health and drugs industries. On 27th May, for instance, health minister Lord Hunt, a champion of PFI in the health service, opened the spanking new High Wycombe Centre for the drugs company Pharmacia; and the Fabian Society, a constituent part of the Labour Party , whose founders proclaimed the advantages of public ownership, is running a monthly lecture (plus the usual buffet lunch) as part of its Health Policy Forum, proudly inaugurated last October by health secretary Alan Milburn.

The forum is in association with (and mostly paid for by) the enormous French drugs company Aventis, whose annual turnover is $18bn.

Ed Miliband has made it clear he intends to reverse the Tories’ privatisation of the NHS. He needs our support, and provides hope that the NHS can be saved.