Seventy-two years ago today, our NHS was born – one of the most brilliant, pioneering and equalising institutions we’ve ever created. When Nye Bevan founded it, he did so on the basis of three very simple, but very powerful principles – that people should be entitled to comprehensive treatment, that access to healthcare should be universal and that service should be delivered free at the point of delivery.
Sadly, seven decades later, those principles have been undermined and ripped up. Migrants being forced to pay a surcharge to access NHS services and charging patients for elective procedures are the thin end of the wedge towards shifting the burden of paying for healthcare away from collective to the individual.
Meanwhile, private companies are now running rampant throughout the health service. Estimates suggest that a staggering 26% of the NHS budget is now spent on the independent sector. Since the onset of the coronavirus crisis, contracts worth as much as £6.2 billion have been signed to deal with the pandemic according to junior health minister and Serco’s former head of public affairs Edward Argar. No wonder Rupert Soames – Serco’s CEO and brother of former Tory MP Nicholas Soames – thinks he can use the crisis to cement the private sector in the NHS.
And what do we get from this? We get a broken health service and a shoddy response to the biggest health crisis since the Spanish Flu. We get companies like accountancy firm Deloitte being given free reign over our the coronavirus testing system without being required to pass on the data on infections to local authorities. And we get a contact tracing programme managed by Serco which even they have admitted won’t be properly operational until the autumn. All the while, the private sector rubs its hands with glee and shareholders pocket millions.
This long term project of privatisation hasn’t been undertaken with the consent of the public at large, to whom the NHS has always been a precious and integral part of our national story. Opinion polls consistently show that the British public overwhelmingly support the NHS being in public hands, and the private sector being kicked out.
Most recently, polling commissioned by We Own It found that 83% support a nationalised NHS run in the public sector. Alongside this, it found that 76% of the public want to see the NHS “reinstated as a fully public service” after the coronavirus crisis. By contrast, just 15% think there should be continued involvement of private companies in the NHS.
The public understands the devastating impact privatisation has had on our health service, because they’ve seen and experienced it first hand, and because they understand that the profit motive is fundamentally at odds with the principles on which it was founded. That’s why people all across the country have been baking beautiful birthday cakes for the NHS this weekend, and calling for private companies to stop being given a slice of our health service.
So after this crisis – throughout which our NHS has been under more pressure than ever before – we call on the government to celebrate its birthday with a simple and near-universally supported policy. It might not be in the interests of their friends in the private sector, but it’s in the interests of everybody else. They should give the NHS a birthday present it deserves – proper funding, and an end to the privatisation that has plagued our health service for decades.