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Editorial: Privatisation is at the heart of our NHS's problems – only Labour will root it out

OUR flustered Prime Minister shoving a reporter’s phone into his own pocket rather than look at a photo of a four-year-old forced to wait for treatment lying on a hospital floor tells you all you need to know about Boris Johnson’s indifference to the NHS crisis.

As the campaign enters its closing stretch, attention is again focusing on a health service groaning under years of real-terms cuts, beset by chronic understaffing and riddled with privatisation thanks to the Tory-Lib Dem Health and Social Care Act of 2012.

Labour has already exposed hundreds of pages documenting talks held between British and US representatives on a future trade deal, indicating that however often the Tories claim the NHS is “off the table” the opposite is true.

Washington’s determination to impose stricter patent law could multiply the cost of medicines many times over; and as former Labour adviser James Meadway has explained, US companies are also after access to NHS data — which could shift control of our private medical records abroad and force the NHS to pay for use of its own data for research and development.

The threat to our health service from a re-elected Conservative government is plain, but Labour is rightly now focusing on action to redress the appalling damage already done to the health service.

The hundreds of “catastrophic” and “extreme” risks to patients identified in analysis of over 120 NHS Trust board papers stem from three interlinked causes — underfunding, staff shortages and privatisation. 

Examples such as Virgin having a contract extended to run a walk-in centre at Coventry and Warwickshire trust despite having been warned over poor performance are familiar from our privatised rail and prison services, where repeated failure to deliver is no barrier to lucrative new assignments. 

Potential collapse of dermatology services at North Middlesex following the liquidation of the company providing them is another strong warning against the use of private providers in our NHS and, for all that the threat of US corporate takeover is presented as a future contingency, there are already for-profit US firms such as Optum operating in the NHS.

All this is possible because of the 2012 Act, parts of which were actually written by international management consultancy McKinsey, which counted US health providers as clients.

Labour’s pledge to scrap the Act and drive the profiteers out of our health service, removing the requirement on health authorities to put services out to tender and restoring the Secretary of State’s responsibility to provide a universal health service, forms one of the most important parts of its manifesto.

So too does increased funding — while the planned 5 per cent pay rise for all public-sector workers and training bursaries for nurses and midwives will help address the serious crises of recruitment and retention that are hobbling the health service. 

From free annual dental check-ups to increased capital funding, a moratorium on bed cuts to the foundation of a generic drug company to reduce the cost of medicines, Labour’s health policy is — alone among the parties competing at this election — comprehensive. It is based on a sober assessment of the weaknesses in the health service and what is responsible for them. 

Its attention to mental health, social care, obesity and regional inequalities show that it is also a serious attempt to transform the NHS to meet current and future problems.

When shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth says a vote for anyone other than Labour is a vote for “five more years of the Tories running our health service into the ground,” he strikes at the heart of what makes Labour’s programme for national renewal so essential. 

The “permanent winter crisis” that has now gripped our NHS for years cannot be solved by funding alone. We need a government committed to the principle of universal public services, publicly controlled and publicly delivered.

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