What a blackout.
The Health and Care Bill – a planned law by the Conservative government that aims to put private, profit-making businesses at the centre of the English NHS – passed by a huge majority just after 7pm today (July 14).
At the time of writing – more than two and a half hours later – I found only one news report about it, in Scottish website The National.
Where’s your report, BBC? Where’s yours, ITV, Channel 4, Sky News? How about you, The Guardian? The Mirror? Anyone else at all?
During the debate, health minister Edward Argar admitted that the Bill would lead to increased private influence in the NHS – but tried to sugar-coat it.
“We are determined to embrace innovative potential wherever we find it,” he said.
Let’s consider what he calls “innovative potential”:
The Bill will break the NHS in England into 42 separate ‘Integrated Care Systems’ (ICS), each with its own – tight – budget that could lead to cuts in care.
These new organisations would be open to the private sector – and the removal of competitive tendering means contracts could be handed straight to asset-stripping profiteers.
Already, 200 firms are connected to the new ICS structure, including at least 30 US-based health insurance companies.
Companies could be given access to confidential patient information, more patient care will be given by less qualified staff who are cheaper, and non-urgent referrals to hospital delayed or refused because of pressure to make savings.
A drive towards cash-saving digital services means face-to-face GP appointments may end.
The long-awaited overhaul of the care system may end up being a demand on already-overworked family carers to take on more unpaid work as unprofitable community services are stripped away altogether.
National agreements on pay, terms and conditions for NHS staff may be swept away with employees ordered to work wherever private-sector employers find it easiest to make a profit – undermining team working, union organisation and continuity of care.
The much-anticipated return of responsibility to the Secretary of State means a politician will be able to make devastating decisions about the NHS without any democratic accountability.
The Health Secretary will be able to deregulate jobs – offering them to candidates who don’t have the right qualifications but are available for the right price, risking harm to patients and interfering with professional judgement and staff development.
The NHS will be exempt from the Public Contract Regulations 2015, meaning it will be impossible to reject bids for contracts on the grounds of non-compliance with environmental, social, or labour laws guaranteeing Freedom of Association and the Right to Strike, or on the basis of a bidder’s previous history.
The Health Secretary will also impose local service reconfigurations, weakening or abolishing the right and power local authorities currently have to scrutinise significant health changes.
The Bill will not treat a single extra patient, nor will it recruit even one more nurse.
That is exactly what I told my Conservative MP, Fay Jones, when I wrote asking her to speak against the Bill, and to vote against it. Of course, she did neither. She’s a Tory drone.
Fortunately, some others had the courage to stand up for their constituents who would be affected (including those in Scotland and Wales, of course).
Dr Philippa Whitford, SNP health spokesperson, said the Bill could mean private companies will be able to take public cash and not have to publish accounts of how it is used.
“It is hard to see this as anything other than a blatant conflict of interest,” she said. “Private companies hide behind commercial confidentiality and don’t publish accounts of how they spend public money.”
Labour’s Zarah Sultana said the Bill “will put on steroids the cronyism we’ve seen in this pandemic, where Tory mates and donors having handed billions of pounds in dodgy Covid Government contracts, and it will implement a healthcare model that incentivises cuts and closures, rationing funding to health boards. This dangerous Bill is another step to privatisation.”
But they were rare voices of reason among the bleating of almost 360 Tory sheep.
A Labour amendment to deny the Bill its second reading was voted down by 359 votes to 218, and the Bill passed to the committee stage of the legislative process by 356 votes to 219.
It seems Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid want to pass this Bill into law before the end of the current Parliamentary session on July 22. With this kind of complicity from their party faithful on the Green Benches, they seem certain to succeed.
And with an apparent news blackout on coverage of this crisis for publicly-provided health care, it seems the NHS will pass into the hands of the asset strippers before most of us even know it could.
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