NHS in terminal condition

Can there be a single person in the country who still believes that the NHS is safe in Tory hands? If there is, that person obviously needs immediate psychiatric help - providing they could find such treatment in the first place, that is.

The creeping privatisation of the NHS is developing into an unashamed gallop, as the Tories’ ‘hidden agenda’ becomes crystal clear. Gerald Malone, the health minister, announced last week that the government will not stop the NHS trusts from marketing their own brands of private health insurance. Malone said he had “no objection to NHS trusts offering branded insurance policies”, as long as it was made dear that any insurance policy was in relation to future private treatment and did not “confer any advantage whatsoever in relation to NHS treatment”.

Who is Malone trying to kid? Such a development would inevitably lead to a two-tier health system - why bother with private health insurance, which does not come cheap, unless you are guaranteed preferential treatment. The lies of Tory ministers are rapidly becoming a sick joke.

We all know the reality. The Guardian has already revealed how 30 trusts were discussing with Universal Health Consultants, a private consultancy, the launch of health insurance schemes by which people would be covered for treatment in private patient wings. These schemes would include ‘fast-track’ treatment by NHS doctors. The fact that Malone, apparently, has “ruled out” such an option, all but guarantees that it will eventually happen.

If more evidence for the prosecution were needed, the government last week gave the go-ahead for the first privately-built NHS hospital, under its private finance initiative - a £170 million venture. The Norfolk and Norwich 2000 development, which will replace two existing hospitals, has been hailed by the government as an “exciting demonstration” of private sector involvement in the NHS. Stephen Dorrell has also unveiled plans for another privately financed hospital, a £90 million rebuild of Princess Margaret’s in Swindon.

Unless an effective and militant opposition campaign is mounted right now, such ‘private initiatives’ will become the norm. The government, whether Tory or Labour, will use the existence of such schemes as a flimsy excuse to drain the NHS of public funds, until we become forced to take out private insurance - or suffer in silence.

Eddie Ford