Political boffin, keen fisherman looking forward to retirement.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

NH Yes – More like ‘End the NHS’

Sometimes in politics, even at election time, you have to show a degree of humility. Before Glyn Davies gets all excited, what I am about to say in the next sentence does not show any inclination of support towards a Rainbow coalition. The Tory’s have done a remarkable rebranding job.

The talismanic moment in the Carmeron shift was his Conference speech when he uttered “in three letters”, NHS. Aware that whilst the Tories were seen as anti-NHS they had little chance of getting elected, Cameron and the Tory leadership have gone out of their way to commit themselves to seemingly support public provision of health services. Coming from the man who was behind the Tory 2005 manifesto which advocated patients passports – a scheme that would have created a two tier health system, this has been touted as a major ideological shift.

As I have argued before, unmask the Tory spin and not everything is quite as they would have you believe. For the upcoming Assembly elections, the Tories are advocating allowing hospitals in Wales to seek Foundation status. These reforms are seen as a key part of the Blair - Brown agenda for hospitals in England, and basically allow succeeding hospitals to opt out of the NHS – effectively it means denationalising the NHS.

Allowing foundation hospitals in Wales would be deeply divisive and elitist. Foundation hospitals are able to offer separate terms and conditions and raise their own money, enabling them to poach the best staff and resources from neighbouring hospitals and Trusts. Basically it is a two tier health service in all but name. In a country as small as Wales the policy will be disastrous. Inevitably hospitals in the richer areas of our country will go from strength to strength, while the rest of us will have a sub standard service.

When the current health Minister mentioned last week that the days of NHS Trusts were over, perhaps this was what he meant – a round of Blairite health reforms.

Furthermore their manifesto makes a commitment to increase Labour’s mixed economy approach to public services. This means opening up public service contracts to private firms. Labour is already doing this of course, for example in Carmarthenshire there is a huge row over the Labour Cabinet Member (who happens to be the candidate in Carmarthen East) who is trying to privatise home care at the behest of the Assembly Government’s Audit Inspectorate. This policy that would be bad for patients and bad for carers (I note a personal interest as my mother is currently an employee of the County in this very sphere). When will the Thatcherite parties learn that running public services on the basis of profit is lunacy?

I sincerely hope that if my party is in power after Thursday that the Audit Commission and the regulatory bodies instructed by the Assembly Government are given a brief to ensure ‘best value’ based on the quality of service not on cutting costs. Only then will we start to get the sort of public services we deserve.

I don’t often agree with David Davies but he was right the other day, Labour and the Tories are by far the two parties that are most politically compatible.

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