Tuesday, October 1, 2013

US Government shutdown shows why we should reject private health

The US government shutdown should remind us of the power of the US private health care lobby and why we don't want it here.

I was listening to an American political analyst on the radio this morning commenting on the US Government shutdown. This astonishing mess is caused by the Republicans wanting to shut down Obama's modest health care reforms, before they even start. He starkly described the USA political system as being as dysfunctional as Italy.

That may well be true, but for me it demonstrated something else about the US political system - the lobby power of the private health care lobby. A few years ago we sponsored a showing of Michael Moore's film 'Sicko' at the Glasgow Film Theatre, followed by a debate on healthcare. We had politicians from all the political parties on the panel, but they all agreed on one thing - thank god for the NHS!

This film shows just how powerful the lobby is in protecting their massive profits that results in the most expensive health care system in the world. Billions spent on administration rather than care - a system that excludes millions from health care and bankrupts even more. Health bills are the major cause of bankruptcy in the USA. My favourite clip is Moore taking public service workers, including firefighters who survived 9/11, to Cuba to get free health care that they couldn't get at home.

So why does this matter in the UK. Well in England the NHS is moving rapidly in the same direction. Under the guise of competition, the English NHS is allowing the very same health care corporations to get a very big foot in the door. Once there, they will defend their profits in same way as they do in America. The Tories will be bought and paid for, just as the Republicans are in the USA.

In Scotland, we should be very grateful for devolution and the political consensus on the NHS. We resisted the New Labour reforms  and scrapped the Tory trust model that placed marketing managers before nurses. The political consensus has largely held, to the level that commercialisation is actually unlawful in some circumstances. Private contractors have largely been banished and services brought back in house, reuniting the health care team. Only the CBI is left arguing for privatisation, an issue I was sparring with them over at the Health Committee last week. Even they are largely going through the motions at the behest of English member companies. The only significant blemish is the PPP hospitals and community facilities that waste scarce £millions every year. Sadly, they are likely to do so for years to come as the SNP introduce new PPP schemes through the hub Initiative and so called NPD model.

Of course we are not entirely exempt from the consequences of Tory NHS privatisation in England. The aim is to cut spending and that has a knock on effect on Scottish budget allocations. That's why Scots joined their colleagues in Manchester on Sunday in the largest demonstration Manchester police had seen for a generation.

So when we look in astonishment as the richest country on the planet closes down its government. Remember that the cause is private health care corporations and their lobbying muscle. Then vow to redouble our efforts to campaign against it happening here.

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