A huge social experiment is being conducted on the world, and it’s time to talk about it. It’s almost invisible to many people. Discussion tends to go round in circles, partly because there isn’t yet a common word that accurately covers its many processes. It involves hollowing-out public services, selling assets off to private interests and cutting down workers’ rights. Powerful forces are implementing, step-by-step, a long-term plan.

Most countries have been hit. Taking any crisis as an opportunity, ‘structural adjustment’ is imposed. Poverty, unemployment, sometimes even dictatorship come with harsh policies of economic ‘efficiency’ above all other priorities. The UK’s turn started under Mrs Thatcher. It continues, now called ‘austerity’, but there’s far more to it than money. It is an elite take-over, a power-grab taking huge swathes of the public realm out of democratic control.

A small group of post-war thinkers called the Chicago School, horrified by excessive state power in Nazi Germany and the USSR, started this. They looked at the world and thought that private interests running it would create a prosperous, socially cohesive, stable society. There is no evidence for this. If anything the opposite is true, but imposition of this theory continues in the face of all opposition, as documented in The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein.

You wouldn’t know this process was happening by following the mainstream media. Only socialist, anarchist and green analysts talk about things in these terms. Have you noticed, for example, that there seems to be some new crisis every week with the NHS? A book by Professor Allyson Pollock horrified me and opened my eyes. The title sums it up: NHS Plc: The Privatisation of Our Health Care. In a decades-long strategy, hundreds of twists and turns along the way are designed to obscure reality from view; ‘outsourcing’, ‘fund holding’, ‘modernising’, and so on, and so on…

In one recent scandal, the Care Quality Commission was compared to a fish which “rots from the head”. But who is the fishmonger here? A new regime, imposed by political decisions, formed that organisation to cover the work of three earlier regulators with little over half the resources. Did they really have any chance of regulating all the hospitals? Perhaps they were negligent, but surely they were under impossible pressures. The ancient Greek saying comes to mind; “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad”.

Sheffield, until 1996, was covered by Trent Regional Health Authority. Then we had Primary Care Trusts. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 replaced these with new structures including a Clinical Commissioning Group. Below this top level the complexities of restructuring, dismantling, re-branding, new targets and funding arrangements must have NHS staff running to keep up.

The 2012 Act removed the responsibility of the government to provide comprehensive healthcare for all, and it created NHS Property Services to “drive estate rationalisation”. In other words, the NHS’s (public) property has been handed over to a private company to run, and sell bits off for housing development. At the moment that company is government-owned. Let’s see how long that lasts.

The next move is a proposed transatlantic free trade treaty, heralded by President Obama. This could open the doors to US healthcare corporate sharks getting their fishhooks into the NHS with a nasty trick; the right to sue governments for decisions which reverse their ‘profit expectations’.

Sheffield Save Our NHS (SSONHS) called a day of action on the 65th birthday of the NHS this month. Despite their admirable protests, it must have felt rather like a retirement party. But we cannot give up. In countries without decent public health services, many people simply go without. They die younger, often of preventable diseases. SSONHS encourages people to join their local GP practice Patient Participation Group and not be afraid to ask questions about general policy as well as specifics. Doctors need to know what people think, so why not tell them? And if you’re a student (of any discipline) check out campaigning health group Medsin. Surely health is worth fighting for. As my Dad used to say, look after your health – it’s all you’ve got.

sheffieldsaveournhs.co.uk
medsin.org
alt-sheff.org

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