Protect the NHS Scrap the Health and Care Bill

Locally, we are raising public awareness about the proposals, which amount to the destruction of the NHS as we know it. We are doing this by holding street stalls. We are also writing to all our elected representatives throughout Cheshire, be they MPs or Councillors. These proposals cannot go ahead without the co-operation of Local Authorities. We are also making links with trade unionists and other organisations that can come forward to join the public voice of opposition. Below is the national statement of KONP concerning the Bill.

Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) calls for widespread public opposition to the Bill, and for MPs and Lords to vote against it at every opportunity.

The Bill will break the national NHS into 42 separate “Integrated Care Systems” (ICS), each with its own tight budget forcing cuts in care. Local NHS provision will be tied to a plan written by the ICS Board, open to the private sector, dragging local authorities into a financial project without real democratic accountability or public control. The Bill will be promoted as an end to privatisation. It is the opposite, a transition to an unregulated market in healthcare.

The Government is responsible for delaying lockdowns in March 2020 and before Christmas, untested discharges to spread infection into care homes, key workers dying without adequate PPE, failure to stop the Delta variant when it first appeared, exhausted and demoralised healthcare staff, and 150,000 deaths. Despite this appalling list of errors, it claims the Bill is based on its record of pandemic management and points the way forward for the NHS as a whole.

In practice, this will mean unbridled collaboration with the private sector, openly celebrated by Matt Hancock before his fall, and certain to be endorsed by former banker and Chancellor, now Health Secretary Sajid Javid, and by the Prime Minister’s NHS advisors including the former CEO of Operose, the UK branch of US health insurance giant Centene, Samantha Jones.

Already, some 200 firms, at least 30 of them US-owned and prominent in the health insurance market, are accredited to support the development and ongoing management of ICSs. They include Operose (which now controls dozens of GP surgeries and community services), Optum (owned by the largest US health insurance firm UnitedHealth), IBM, and Palantir.

As money drains from healthcare to shareholders, what will it mean for patients, and for NHS staff whose wellbeing is essential if they are to provide effective care?

For patients:

* more companies are given access to confidential patient information, with no clear protection for patient privacy
* more digital services, creating a two-tier health service, depending on whether you’re able to make use of computers or smartphones
* fewer face-to-face appointments with GPs, and less chance of seeing the same health worker
* more patient care is given by less qualified (cheaper) staff, directed by computers and manuals
* the growing expectation that patients will ‘self- care’, using phone apps or websites for advice or information
* more risk that services will be cut or rationed, and non-urgent referrals to hospital delayed or refused because of pressure on ICSs to make savings
* faster discharge from hospital, with family carers expected to take on more unpaid care due to lack of community services.

For staff:

* threat to national agreements on pay, terms, and conditions as each ICS Board will have its own limited budget and seek to cut costs
* flexible working, with staff, redeployed across and even beyond the ICS area, undermining team working, union organisation, continuity of care, and bad for the environment with increased travel
* deregulation, like nursing and other jobs, are advertised to candidates without the right qualifications
* deregulation, as the Secretary of State, will have the power to remove jobs from regulation – supposedly justified by new technology but actually risking harm to patients and interfering with professional judgment and staff development

For democratic accountability and Local Authorities:

* the Secretary of State for Health will assume decision-making power to impose local service reconfigurations
* the right and power of scrutiny by local authorities of significant health changes will be weakened or abolished
* the right of access by the public to board meetings and papers may also be threatened

For legal protections:

* exempting the NHS from the Public Contract Regulations 2015 will remove the right to reject bids on the grounds of non-compliance with environmental, social, or labour laws (ILO conventions guaranteeing Freedom of Association and the Right to Strike), and on the basis of a bidder’s track record

During the pandemic, the government dished out over 3000 covid contracts, many of them without tendering, some to companies whose only qualification was being mates with a Minister

That is the Brave New World the government plans for the NHS as a whole. The threats to staff should ring alarm bells for every trade union with members in the NHS, and the threats to patients should concern us all. Let’s stop this Bill now.

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Protect and Support our Precious NHS Staff

NHS pay: 3% is much too little, too late

The government’s revised offer of a 3% pay increase for NHS workers is far too little, too late. After months of delay, the latest offer put forward by the government is only a slight improvement 1% “increase” that was unveiled in March this year and falls far short of the pay demands that have been staked out by all of the major health trade unions in recent months.

With staff suffering a loss in real wage value of 8-30% over the last decade (large numbers losing 15-20%) and annual inflation rising to 2.5% in June, a 3% increase is a totally inadequate response to the challenges facing our health service. A substantial pay rise is desperately needed and long overdue. There are over 100,000 unfilled NHS vacancies, showing that the recruitment and retention of staff – already badly depressed before the Covid pandemic struck – is continuing to suffer. Every day brings fresh indications of staff reaching breaking point from trauma and exhaustion, after 16 long months in which the government has neglected and mistreated both the NHS and the health and care workforce at every turn. This has a devastating knock-on effect on patients, who suffer and die unnecessarily in hospitals plagued by the entirely avoidable problems of under-funding and under-staffing. The systematic under-remuneration of NHS staff is one aspect of a broader war of attrition against our health service, which is now under fresh attack from the new Health and Care Bill, which paves the way for more expansive privatisations with even less public input accountability.

It is not true, as the government has argued, that there is simply “no money” to offer staff a proper pay rise. Since March 2020, huge amounts of public funding have been lavished on private firms, ranging from the “VIP lane” for dubious PPE procurement outfits, to the bailout of private hospitals last year, to the farcical Test-and-Trace program overseen by Serco and Baroness Dido Harding. The cost of meeting health workers’ demand for a restorative 15% pay increase would be a fraction of the £37 billion spent so far on this latter project alone – a project that, according to a report in March this year from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, has been so poorly run that it has made “no clear difference” to the course of the pandemic in the UK.

Earlier this month, we were proud to help coordinate a nationwide day of protest that saw health workers and campaigners take to the streets in over 70 locations nationwide on the 73rd anniversary of the founding of our health service. Health workers will now be discussing the best way forward to press their demand for real pay justice. Keep Our NHS Public will continue to stand right behind health workers, and the NHS they serve, as they and their unions take this fight forward.