John Pilger’s new documentary details the process by which the NHS has been carved up and sold off to the private sector interspersed with personal accounts of the victims of this ‘dirty war’. Capitalism is the cause. Fight to save our NHS!
John Pilger’s latest documentary, The dirty war on the NHS (which aired on ITV on 17 December) is a blow-by-blow account of how Britain’s most loved institution has gone from a bastion of socialised healthcare, delivering high-quality free medical care to all, to a body plagued by corruption and parasitism.
The documentary begins by charting the material conditions that led to the setting up of the National Health Service in 1948, highlighting that “Britain’s deadly disease was class”. However, the revolutionary spirit that underpinned the nationalised healthcare system lasted a mere three decades before the ruling class, emboldened by Thatcher’s 1980s war on the public sector, began a stealth form of privatisation.
This betrayal was perpetuated by New Labour under Tony Blair, whose Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) burdened hospitals with exorbitant debt while lining the pockets of companies such as McKinsey & Company, whose very purpose is the privatisation of public assets.
In one startling case, the NHS borrowed £11 billion, and will be expected to pay back £80bn over the next 30-40 years. Such debts are inevitably passed on to medical staff and patients, the innocent victims of “efficiency savings”.
Throughout, we are reminded of the corporate jargon and smoke-and-mirrors approach that politicians take, claiming love for the same NHS they so eagerly dismember.
Pilger’s frightening historical analysis is interspersed with personal accounts and case studies of those most affected by this “dirty war”: the working class.
America’s healthcare system serves as a warning of a society without universal healthcare. The rural population in Appalachia, unable to pay medical bills, travel for hours to a three-day annual humanitarian event where free medical and dental care is offered by volunteers. Military veterans with excruciating tooth abscesses and people with asthma unable to afford inhalers are just some of the 30 million Americans who cannot access health insurance.
Just as the plundering by capital is international, so too is the suffering of the working class. In Britain, unregulated private ambulances were discovered to be using malfunctioning defibrillators, leading to unnecessary deaths with no punishment.
In another case, which to some extent crystallises the greatest crimes of private medical firms, Hinchingbrooke Hospital was purchased by Circle Health in 2012. The company’s owner, Ali Parsa, promised efficiency and solutions for the failing hospital. His ringing endorsement from the then business secretary Vince Cable underpins the collusive nature of state and capital in selling off public assets.
What happened? The hospital’s performance levels dropped, prompting the Care Quality Commission – the UK’s regulatory body for health and social care services – to declare the safety of patients at risk. Senior nurses were forced into unsafe and desperate competition between each other, humiliated in board meetings and ultimately blamed by Parsa for the hospital’s failures. Circle Health undermined hospital staff dynamics, prioritised money over patient safety, and prematurely ended their contract with the NHS. As one UNISON member concluded: “privateers have no place in the NHS.”
Socialism is the cure
Sadly, the documentary concludes by offering only limited solutions to the crisis, ranging from an unspecified “political decision” to the government needing to “believe in the NHS”. The onus, according to the variety of experts interviewed for the documentary, seems to be on the people to convince the state to save the NHS.
However, it is clear that the encroaching private sector and successive privatisation-friendly governments are not simply coincidences, but part of a larger systematic political and economic failure. The symptoms are many, but the underlying cause is capitalism.
Our duty is to strike at the system, with a unified working class and a clear programme of demands. We demand a fully funded publicly-owned health service, free to all. Kick out the privateers and end outsourcing to big business. Mobilise and fight to save our NHS!