No ration on health

Last week two cases highlighted how money talks in today’s National Health Service. A man died after being airlifted two hundred miles to an intensive care bed because his own regional unit is being run down; and top judges have ruled that a 10-year old girl cannot have the treatment that could save her life

NOTHING more clearly illustrates the priorities of capitalism than the plight of the child who has only weeks to live, yet has been refused a last chance because the treatment would be too expensive.

According to doctors the girl, who has a rare form of leukaemia, has a 10% to 20% chance of recovery if she undergoes chemotherapy followed by a bone marrow transplant. Yes, the treatment is risky and desperately unpleasant, but she has no other hope.

So what is preventing the health service from administering it? The £75,000 that her health authority would have to find for the ‘extra-contractual referral’ to carry it out. Everybody, from Cambridge Health Authority to health secretary Virginia Bottomley, from the Appeal Court judge to John Major, is claiming that the decision not to treat her was taken by her doctors on medical grounds. But the doctors know that if they treat this patient then they would not have the funds for others, so it is clearly the cash which is paramount.

The NHS has been forced into the grim ‘realistic’ world of ‘market forces’ as part of the new consensus - shared by the Labour Party, despite its bleats of protest - to wind down the welfare state. So an anonymous donor has stepped in to finance the child’s treatment - a wealthy Harley Street consultant can start work today.

Just as grim is the case of Malcolm Murray who quickly needed an intensive care bed with neurosurgical facilities after being hit by a van and suffering a severe head injury. His regional neuroscience unit, the Brook General Hospital in nearby Woolwich, London, was closed for new admissions because of staff shortage - and no other suitable place could be found for him anywhere in the South-East.

Just last month a national survey, commissioned by the government itself, revealed that 20% of all intensive care beds in major cities have been permanently closed, resulting in one in four patients having to be turned away. Yet Bottomley still intends to press ahead with her massive hospital closure programme. In London alone six intensive care units and three specialist neurological units are currently under threat, including Brook General Hospital itself. As the Brook is run down, its one remaining neuro-anaesthetist is now on permanent emergencycall until the unit finally closes later this year.

And they blamed the staff shortage there on an outbreak of gastric flu!

Perhaps, you may think, all will be well when, come the next election, Bottomley, Major and the whole gang are replaced by Tony Blair’s new-look Labour Party?

Think again. Margaret Beckett, Labour’s spokesperson on health, has contented herself with calling for a halt to further specialist bed closures, rather than demanding the improved facilities that we need. Capitalism’s government-in-waiting is in full agreement with the bourgeois consensus that “The National Health Service cannot possibly afford what is now medically possible” (The Independent March 11).

As a result Labour is considering the option of forcing workers to take out private health insurance, so that the NHS can be run down more smoothly.

Workers should consider why medical advances should lead to a worsening in health provision, including even the basic emergency services.

The answer of course is capitalism. It is capitalism which fixes sky-high health prices, whether for simple drugs or for intensive treatment, such as that required for leukaemia or brain injuries.

In a planned society - where workers’ need, not bosses’ greed, is given top priority - we will be able to make such provision so cheap and efficient that it will be available to everybody on the planet.

The Communist Party exists to make that possibility a reality. In the coming local elections, we will be standing for what workers need, not what the bosses say the system can afford.