For years now, this blog and others have been warning that the Tories’ plan for the NHS is to end it – at least in any meaningful sense. Their claims that the NHS was ‘safe in our hands’ have been nonsense even before they were spoken, as the Conservatives were planning the withering of the NHS long before they became the leading party in coalition government in 2010.
As Noam Chomsky observed, the methodology is underhand but not complicated:
That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.
But privatisation is not the ‘endgame’. Paying taxes to fund the NHS still means paying taxes – anathema to rich Tories. Making us pay for our treatment to private providers – that’s the endgame.
Private capital expects to make a profit – and to pay minimal taxes, so ‘free at the point of need’ is an obstacle to be removed for such people. Selling off record chunks of the NHS is just foreplay – the ‘end-game’ is for us to ‘pay at the point of need’ for what we’ve already paid for.
Prising our fingers loose from our greatest treasure is not a short process – so the Tories, both in Westminster and in the media, have for years now been working undermine public trust in the NHS.
Now they feel – wrongly, I think – that the ‘plan which must not be named’ can come out of the closet. But they won’t just announce it as government policy all in one go. The idea will be trailed, tested, toes dipped in the water – all with the aim of gradually introducing it into mainstream thought.
And so it starts – the beginning of the end-game, when the Tories finally put into words what they’ve intended all along. All couched in plausible deniability, of course.
Yesterday, in the House of Commons, Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh was the person designated to chip the first breach in the wall:
As we are unlikely to reach my question on the Order Paper, perhaps the Minister could now direct his attention to the east midlands where we have problems with A&E, particularly for people in rural areas. For those of us who rely completely on the NHS, this is obviously a matter of vital concern. I just wonder whether we should not have an honest debate about this and recognise that we have an ageing population. Our A&E times are stressed and we may have to either tax people more or even think the unthinkable and charge people for—[Interruption.] See, it is unthinkable, but we have to concentrate on the essentials. Let us have an honest debate about the finances of the NHS.
Of course, ‘honest debate about the finances of the NHS’ is the last thing the Tories want. They’ve spent too much time and assiduous effort constructing and maintaining the fallacy that they’ve increased NHS funding and have provided the ‘money the NHS asked for’ – defending it even when officially rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority and the Commons Health Committee.
Even when the backlog of essential NHS repairs has risen by 69% in just 12 months because of desperate underfunding:
Labour's launching a national campaign to save our NHS. Join us on Saturday 26 November → https://t.co/dhdbtRidLM https://t.co/DwYzVjPTYn
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) November 15, 2016
What they want is for the idea of payment (or sometimes ‘co-payment’) for health services to be introduced into public discourse, so that ‘the unthinkable’ gradually starts to be the ‘very much thought’ – as it’s been for them since the NHS began.
The excellent Angela Rayner, among many others, spotted the trick and held it up to the light:
Tory MPs want to charge patients for NHS treatment. I cannot find this policy in their last election manifesto? https://t.co/G3KPzVWSxs
— 🌈 Angela Rayner 🌈 (@AngelaRayner) November 15, 2016
as did Shadow Health Secretary John Ashworth and others.
But they need our help. As the Tories try to make payment for health very ‘thinkable’ indeed, we need to highlight what they’re up to and to focus on why it must remain not just unthinkable but unthought. By everyone except the Tories, of course – they’ve been at it for decades.
It’s a fight we must conduct on the street, online and at every ballot box. If we let them take the NHS, it will be almost impossible to get back.