Defend the NHS: stop the Health and Care Bill

Felicity Dowling writes: Wednesday 14th marks the second reading of the Health and Care Bill 2021. This single piece of legislation is the greatest threat the National Health Service in England has faced yet.

Do not sit idly by. Do not buy the nonsense that there is nothing you can do. This is happening because they can do it on the quiet. Make a noise, make a difference.

Would that there were a huge Opposition but there is not, so we are left to what we can build to defend the NHS as a social movement. Social movements can be enormously powerful.

Go to Parliament on Wednesday if you can. Everyone though can do some of these tasks:

  1. Please write to your MP. All the better if the MP is a Conservative. Do not write once, write regularly and keep your correspondence to publish it next time there is an election. Remind the MP of the promises made at the last election. Do not be surprised at just how ignorant they are of what these laws will bring. In Cheshire and Merseyside, we are saying to elected representatives: “This is on your watch! You carry responsibility for this. There is no ducking this responsibility. Just as NHS staff carry the can for what happens on their shift, this lies on your shoulders.” Some Labour MPs will be delighted to get some support for the NHS.
  2. Write to your councillors. They too have a role to play.
  3. Write to your Union. Tell them to tell their members of the dangers, to demand real action from sponsored MPs. Unions have not yet woken up to just how serious this is.
  4. Raise in your union branch or workplace.
  5. Raise it in your campaign groups, for the environment, against war, against violence against women.
  6. Put a poster in your window.
  7. Join a local health campaign group and be the optimistic one.
  8. Call a local Left Unity meeting to raise the issues.
  9. Get out on a stall.
  10. Raise it on Facebook and twitter.

We demand now and will continue to demand world class health care for all, a national system, free at the point of need, providing comprehensive treatments based on patient need with national pay and conditions and professions regulated independently of government politics. A wall of silence shelters this legislation, but we will not be silent. Along with all the other NHS defence campaigns we will make as much noise on this as we can, and we will persist over years if that is what it takes. The government might slyly pass laws stripping our rights, but they will still have to answer for their misdeeds. People will realise the extent of what is stripped from them and see how long some of us will have to endure pain and foreshortened lives, all to fund Branson’s polluting trips to near space.

The NHS is (still is for a little while) a true system. That means all its parts can work together to form a whole functioning organisation, one of the largest, most complex and most efficient systems in the world. The hospital you attend links into the knowledge and research of hospitals in other parts of the system, the nurse who treats you has access to the whole system’s research and resources. The new legislation already being implemented ahead of parliamentary approval splits the NHS into 42 different and distinct systems. No for-profit health industry can replace that national system. No insurance-based system can replace it. Insurance policies might be sold but what you get from the insurance policy cannot match the NHS.

The NHS was not founded to make profit but to provide health care for all. Much damage has already been done by a decade of austerity, by withholding of funds and manufactured shortage of staff and equipment, all accompanied by ongoing dis-organisation and malpractice. Malpractice which leaves PFI as a shackle round the necks of hospitals and the scandal of Liverpool’s unfinished Royal Carillion Hospital. Low pay and overwork have severely damaged the workforce. The Conservatives are like rich kids allowed to play with and rob precious equipment and traditions. They keep stealing from the NHS even while they know they are causing real damage, damage that will cause problems for them.

Outcomes for many illnesses now lag behind Europe as does UK safety in childbirth. The hostile environment and migrant charges have cost huge pain and suffering but also the break in trust between the health service and many who have been challenged rudely about their right to treatment. An NHS trust has had to apologise for mistreatment over migrant charges but says it cannot change the system until the law changes.

Austerity has made our people ill. Life expectancy gaps between rich and poor continue to grow. Life expectancy in good health has fallen for women, and for women and men life expectancy in good health is now in the low 60s leaving the current plan to increase the age for prescription charge relief to be still more of a scandal.

Despite all the harm done, all the sugary lies told, the NHS is still very much worth saving. It is still what stands between many of us and either death, or lives steeped in pain.

Money invested in health care repays the economy many times over. No way is this Conservative attempt to rob our NHS to do with economy or efficiency. Capitalism and urban society require efficient health care.

The damage done by the pandemic shows just why we need an excellent health system with surplus and surge capacity. What will be left of health care after the rich kids have finished messing will be dangerously fragmented, under-resourced and damaging to the whole economy.

This is the project of a wealthy group in the Conservatives (and some Labour). Not all MPs understand it. Simon Stevens retiring (to the Lords) head of the NHS after all was Blair’s Health man. If you find someone who wants to know the detail this from Public Matters is an excellent introduction. You can find draft though slightly dated letter to councillors here and resolutions for union branches here.

Even if it takes a decade we will continue to fight for the NHS free at the point of need, funded by the government, a national service, providing all the necessary treatments, for everybody. People power founded the NHS and will re-found it.

If you want to join Left Unity’s health caucus please do get in touch – contact

Felicity Dowling is a Principal Speaker of Left Unity


1 comment

One response to “Defend the NHS: stop the Health and Care Bill”

  1. Rosemary Youatt says:

    I have already suffered the destruction of the NHS. For four years I waited for a major operation on my spine causing me considerable pain and lessening mobility. It was done at last recently because I made a complaint against the hospital. I didn’t want to do this but the cancelled operations etc caused me extreme stress that I couldn’t deal with on top of the physical problems.
    Also a few months ago I suffered blocked ears (I wear two hearing aids) . Communicating with my GP surgery was frustrating and treatment there was dented me. They kept telling me I had to go to Specsavers and pay £55 to have my ears micro suctioned. Even though I am a pensioner on pension credit. Not free at the point of need. Again I had to threaten them to get a referral to the local ENT. This took a while because of backlog due to COVID. Eventually I was seen and again micro suction took place. The very next day after this was done I woke up with blocked ears again. I was extremely distressed as it had been impossible to have a proper conversation with my friends and family. Again extreme stress. I rang the ENT and told them the situation and they said they would see what could be done.
    I am still waiting. This is not the NHS i have been used to and my heart aches to think we will very soon lose it.

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