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Keep the NHS public: These demonstrators don't want the NHS to be funded by private means. They want a publicly-run service, catering for everyone, regardless of their means to pay.

Keep the NHS public: These demonstrators don’t want the NHS to be funded by private means. They want a publicly-run service, catering for everyone, regardless of their means to pay.

A junior health minister in the House of Lords has called for an independent inquiry into ways of changing the way the National Health Service is funded, away from taxation and towards insurance and user charges.

It’s the Conservative Party’s dream come true – but you probably missed it because it was announced very quietly last Thursday (July 9) in a House of Lords debate on the “sustainability” of the NHS, by the unelected Tory Government’s Under-Secretary of State for NHS Productivity, Lord David Prior. One suspects he may have overstepped his job description.

The gist of the debate is presented in this Open Democracy post. Basically, Tory Lords called for “a plurality of funding” to make the NHS sustainable. Rather than taxing the rich (who can afford to pay), they want to tax the sick (who can’t).

Astonishingly, Labour peers didn’t have a lot to say against the idea. Pro-privatisation Lord Warner (why is he Labour, if he’s pro-privatisation?) said: “A wise Government should begin now the process of helping the public engage in a discourse about future funding of the NHS.”

Prior, summing up, said that, although he preferred a tax-funded NHS, “if demand for healthcare outstrips growth in the economy for a prolonged period, of course that premise has to be questioned.”

He called for an independent inquiry on healthcare funding – perhaps to be carried out by the King’s Fund or Nuffield Trust – ignoring the fact that the King’s Fund’s Barker Review has rejected user charges and called for more taxes to pay for healthcare, through a review of inheritance tax and national insurance increases – which George Osborne has recently cut.

This plan, coupled with the recently-announced possibility of social security becoming based on private insurance, would pronounce the death sentence on the Welfare State.

The Open Democracy article asks: “Are we being nudged towards an inefficient, unfair ‘pay NHS’ in the only way possible – undemocratically?”

It seems so.

Let’s nip this one in the bud.

Back in 2011, David Cameron told the world: “We will not be moving towards an insurance scheme, we will not introduce an American-style private system. In this country, we have this most wonderful, precious institution and idea. That whenever you’re ill, however rich you are, you can walk into a hospital or surgery and get treated for free. No questions asked. No cash asked. I will never put that at risk.”

It seems that now would be an excellent time to contact your MP (via the Write To Them website if you like), reminding them of Cameron’s words.

Then – as a Vox Political reader suggested in a comment to the Facebook page, point out that an unelected junior health minister, Lord Prior, has suggested to Parliament that he plans to launch an inquiry to consider whether we should move away from a tax-funded NHS, towards one funded by insurance and co-payments.

Finally ask if it is now official government policy to consider such a move to an insurance or user-fee funded NHS, away from the core principles that have been in place since the 1940s.

Don’t forget to ask all your friends to do the same.

This government only listens if enough people raise their voices.

Let’s give David Cameron and his ministers a reason to prick up their ears.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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