Friday, 25 November 2016

Do you believe the NHS is safe with the Tories? How Thatcher's behaviour exposed that lie

“The NHS is safe with us,” Thatcher told the nation – well, the Tory Party Conference, but we were all listening – in 1982.

It can take some time – in this case, over three decades – but eventually the truth will out, and the lie is exposed. At least, if you have a newspaper as effective as the Guardian to do the exposing.

It was three years ago that we discovered from papers published under the thirty-year rule, that back then Thatcher’s government had considered a proposal to end free Higher Education and to introduce vouchers to pay for school education, freeze benefits and, most toxic of all, to overthrow the founding principle of the NHS that healthcare should be free at the point of care, replacing the service by one based on insurance. As the paper containing the proposal pointed out, “This would of course mean the end of the National Health Service.”

As quoted in the Guardian: the killer phrase in the 1982 proposals
In her memoirs, Thatcher said, “I was horrified when I saw this paper. I pointed out that it would almost certainly be leaked and give a totally false impression … It was all a total nonsense.”

The government dropped the proposals after what her then Energy Secretary, Nigel Lawson, described as “the nearest thing to a cabinet riot in the history of the Thatcher administration.”

What has now emerged, from newly-published Treasury papers of her then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Geoffrey Howe, is that Thatcher didn’t give up on the proposals herself but kept working on them with him. As he noted, “the prime minister has arranged a series of meetings with the main spending ministers to discuss the follow-up to the discussion in cabinet” on the proposals. Among other things, the discussions were to look into replacing some public services by “more efficient alternatives from the private sector.”

If Thatcher was horrified, it was clearly about the fact that the ideas “would almost certainly be leaked” rather than about the ideas themselves.

Now roll on thirty or more years.

There has been constantly extending privatisation of health services in England with little evidence that they provide better quality. In fact, they don’t even seem to be able to generate levels of profit that would persuade the private companies to keep delivering them – several major contracts have already had to be cancelled.

Meanwhile the NHS is facing an unprecedented level of financial crisis. The 2015/16 year was the second in a row which saw the service in England in deficit – and with three times the level as the year before. The much respected health think tank, the King’s Fund, comments:

The scale of the aggregate deficit makes it clear that overspending is largely not attributable to mismanagement in individual organisations – instead it signifies a health system buckling under the strain of huge financial and operational pressures. The recent strategy of driving efficiencies by cutting the tariff has placed disproportionate strain on providers and is no longer sustainable.

That reference to a “recent strategy” reveals that the problem has been caused by deliberate policy. The government is putting the NHS “under the strain of huge financial and operational pressures”. Unbearable strain, you might say. .

Is this an unfortunate consequence of a misguided policy? Or is it merely the continuation by other means of an approach already launched scouted over three decades ago by Thatcher? An approach that would necessarily lead to “the end of the National Health Service”?

It hardly matters how we answer those questions. What’s clear is that the notion that the “NHS is safe” with the Tories is just sand in the eyes of those too tired or too greedy to resist their propaganda.

Why, you might as reasonably believe that Tories will keep the poor safe.

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