Politics and the NHS – creeping privatisation or planned destruction?

I’m quite despondent about the recent general election. I went to a local hustings, although I live in a safe seat so it seemed a bit academic. I’ve never been before and thought it would be interesting. Virtually the only audience reaction was an audible gasp all round the hall, when, in response to a question about “creeping privatisation” of the NHS, the Conservative candidate said flatly “there is no creeping privatisation of the NHS”.

Really? Well, no perhaps there isn’t. Perhaps creeping is the wrong word. Perhaps the question should have been about blatant privatisation, or rampant privatisation, and certainly about unrepentant privatisation. And maybe privatisation is the wrong word too – destruction might be more apt, maybe even planned deliberate destruction: that’s why I’m feeling despondent. I’ve worked in older people’s mental health for a number of years now, and I’ve seen the deterioration in health and social care. For example, at one time the carers of people with dementia could get respite, either day care for the person or a period of care in a Home so that they could take a rest from constant care, perhaps even rotating respite, so that they knew a break would come at a regular interval, helping them to carry on in the intervening period. Now it’s more and more difficult for people to get access to support and advice. Even older people’s mental health has been persuaded to abandon many people, having adopted the belief that people should be discharged from follow up after diagnosis as “there’s nothing we can do”, or they don’t “need” our service, or “we’ve too many people on our books”. Dementia doesn’t go away. Families struggle on until a crisis overtakes them. Is this humane? Is it logical? Is it the way to support people to carry on caring? Is it socially just (dirty words I know)? Chronic illness isn’t illness any more – it’s just a social problem… So that’s all right then!

The British Medical Association has called on all political parties to stop playing games with the NHS: see the link here to No More Games. That’s ok, but it’s doctors, and they can be dismissed as having vested interests. But doctors aren’t alone: see here what Unite has to say, and here what the University of Manchester Students Union has to say. These are just a few, and yes, in fact we’ve all got vested interests, and the politicians have most of all! We need a wider movement of people if we want to stop the NHS being used as a political football. It’s our NHS and we all have a vested interest in what happens to it.

Incidentally, I looked up definitions of politics on the internet (memo to self – must buy a good dictionary) and there are several. I was concerned by:

“intrigue or maneuvering within a political unit or a group in order to gain control or power”

(see number 4 in the first list here) and

“any activity concerned with the acquisition of power, gaining one’s own ends” (number 5 in the second list here).

No wonder we can’t trust politicians with the NHS!

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