Party members must ensure these policies go into effect, says ALEX SCOTT-SAMUEL
LAST week’s Labour Party conference saw significant advances in Labour’s policies for the NHS — advances resulting from the collective efforts of health campaigners and the labour movement.
Rather than sitting back and waiting for a general election, these gains now need to be followed up by concerted action to ensure that MPs, councillors, trade unionists and activists work as one to ensure that Labour’s new policies are effectively implemented in every part of the NHS, national and local government.
The week began with a Sussex Defend the NHS march through Brighton to the conference centre.
The speakers at the rally included shadow chancellor John McDonnell, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth and Professor Allyson Pollock, co-author of the NHS Reinstatement Bill, which has for so long acted as a beacon for campaigners against NHS privatisation.
In a fiery speech McDonnell committed the next Labour government to not just halting but reversing all NHS privatisation and ending the massive debts created by the discredited private finance initiative (PFI), which the Blair government used to build so many hospitals.
For the first time, Ashworth committed Labour to ending the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) which constitute the Tory strategy for breaking up England’s National Health Service into 44 Americanised and restricted care packages, or Accountable Care Systems (ACS).
Popular though it was, Labour’s election manifesto had merely committed to halting and reviewing the STPs.
Later, in his conference speech, Ashworth committed Labour to scrapping the NHS pay cap, reintroducing health student bursaries, and fully reinstating a publicly provided health service free of privatisation, free at the point of use and accountable to the secretary of state.
These policies are all to be found in the NHS Reinstatement Bill and later Ashworth agreed to meet the academics working on NHS reinstatement.
However, the most important progress on health policy was made in conference’s overwhelming support for the composite motion on the NHS, which I had the privilege to propose on behalf of the Socialist Health Association (SHA).
The SHA motion had also been submitted by 26 constituencies; a further 13 had submitted similar NHS motions mostly drawn up by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and by Keep Our NHS Public.
Agreement at conference implies that the motion can be treated as Labour Party policy.
As heralded in McDonnell and Ashworth’s speeches, it firmly commits Labour to reinstating a fully comprehensive service without user charges, provided and funded by the public sector. All NHS privatisation will be reversed and PFI debts paid off centrally.
The views of conference delegates on ending privatisation were further reinforced by the “reference back” to the National Policy Forum of a section of its 2017 report referring to manifesto commitments for the NHS to be the “preferred provider” and to a proposed new legal duty to avoid excess private profits being made out of the NHS; both of these of course imply a continuation of a commercial market within the NHS.
The Five Year Forward View — NHS England’s ruthlessly and undemocratically imposed cuts, rationing and privatisation strategy — will be ditched, along with the STPs and ACSs which are currently taking apart England’s health service.
Research published by SHA has now shown the Five Year Forward View to have directly originated from the corporate health profiteers of the World Economic Forum at Davos.
Scrapping the strategy will be achieved through an NHS Reinstatement Bill along the lines of the one tabled by Margaret Greenwood MP in the last parliament.
But if the Tories hang on for five years, the NHS will have gone by the time prime minister Corbyn takes office.
We must do everything possible for these newly agreed policies to take effect now.
Although Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt and their NHS executive and corporate friends will plough on regardless, they cannot implement the STPs without support and collaboration from Labour local authorities.
It is imperative that Corbyn, McDonnell and Ashworth meet as soon as possible with Labour council leaders — and also with MPs, trade unionists, councillors, health professionals, the voluntary sector and activists — to spell out Labour’s new policies and to emphatically assert the crucial importance of their immediate implementation.
At the same time, Labour members should be submitting motions to their constituencies, to ensure that local pressure is exerted on councils, NHS and care agencies, and trade unionists, health activists, health workers and everyone who cares for the NHS should be organising to press for effective local action to scrap the STPs and ACSs.
Thanks to last week’s conference, Labour has the political leverage to seize the moment.
The conference motion to renationalise the NHS will win Labour the next general election. We must act to save the NHS — and the time is now.
• Alex Scott-Samuel is chair of the Socialist Health Association.
• For more on the Socialist Health Association, visit: sochealth.co.uk. To view the NHS composite motion and the proposing speeches, visit: mstar.link/NHSmotion17. For the SHA’s research on the Five Year Forward Plan, visit: tinyurl.com/m76rskh.