This election is a fight for the survival of our NHS as a free public service that puts patients before profits. Next Thursday, the NHS is on the ballot paper. Millions of people will have a choice about whether to see off the threat posed by Boris Johnson’s Conservatives to their local hospital and GP surgery, already stretched to breaking point by a decade of Tory austerity and privatisation.
All of us have the chance to end the intolerable situation where hundreds of thousands of people have been left languishing on trolleys in hospital corridors, and cancer patients wait months in fear for treatment. And next Thursday, voters can stop in its tracks the very real risk of Donald Trump getting his hands on our NHS.
Three weeks ago in this newspaper, I raised the alarm about the secret plot to sell out our NHS in a toxic deal with the US president. I warned that it would open up our NHS to takeover by US corporations and drive up the price of medicines, potentially costing the NHS an extra £500m a week for drugs, and putting lives at risk.
I was accused of scaremongering and peddling a conspiracy theory. But then we saw the uncensored reports of two years of extensive talks between the Conservative government and US officials. It was jaw-dropping. As trade experts have since confirmed, the NHS is very much on the table in those talks. “The two sides have been having a very sophisticated discussion,” wrote David Henig, a negotiator on previous trade deals. He observed dryly: “The message about the NHS not being on the table certainly hadn’t got through to negotiators.”
If our NHS is not on the table, it doesn’t take two years of talks to say “no”. The secret documents show the US even wants access to all of our NHS health records, worth £10bn a year to US tech companies. Right on cue, new evidence has emerged that patient data has already been auctioned off to American pharma giants on the quiet.
The US demands full market access to all our public services, and would have a Conservative government, desperate for a US trade deal, over a barrel.
Boris Johnson claims our NHS is not for sale because he is not flogging off the entire institution in one go. But he knows this is about the service being broken open so that private corporations can profit from people’s illnesses. That kind of privatisation has doubled during the last decade of Conservative rule – and it is accelerating: two-thirds of NHS contracts since 2015 have gone to the private sector.
People need to ask themselves if they can trust Boris Johnson with our NHS. This is someone who stood up in parliament and attacked our NHS as a “top-down, monopolistic healthcare service” and advocated an entirely different system.
Right now, he is presiding over an explosion of rationing for basic treatments. If you live in Swindon and have a hernia, or Harrow and have cataracts, or Milton Keynes and need a hip replacement, you may find it is no longer available on the NHS to someone with your circumstances. Local NHS bodies are denying people in pain the operations they need. The Patients Association has warned that rationing like this means “patients who can afford to pay privately are doing so, while those who can’t are going without and suffering.” This is introducing charging by the back door.
Labour will rescue our NHS. We will make it a health service to be proud of, where our A&E departments are not crammed with people waiting more than four hours to be seen, and where it is possible to get an appointment with your GP without having to book weeks in advance.
Labour will not merely repair the damage done by the Tories; we will expand our health service, with thousands more doctors and nurses, free dental check-ups and free prescriptions in England – as people have in Wales and Scotland.
The American actor Rob Delaney has spoken movingly of the care his son received from the NHS. He called our health service “the pinnacle of human achievement” and warned us against moving towards the private US system he grew up with.
My parents’ generation fought hard to establish a universal health service, owned and run by the public. They left it in our trust. It’s our duty to defend it. On Thursday, you have the chance to do just that. Vote Labour for our NHS.