Labour, Tory, same old story. Britain’s health woes will only get worse while we carry on expecting career politicians who serve the ruling class to fix the failings of the system.
Before the 2015 general election, most of the ‘great and good’ of the trade-union and labour movement were telling us that we should not be reminding people about the Labour party’s culpability in the relentless attacks on the free-at-the-point-of-use, publicly-owned National Health Service (NHS). Instead, these ‘leaders’ ignored the plethora of past Labour crimes and went all out to portray a Labour election victory as the only possible way of saving Britain’s health service from the privateers.
Of course, in the post-election reality of a majority Tory government, this message has left anyone who believed it with the impression that nothing now can be done to prevent the final abolition of the NHS.
Those who accused us of ‘spreading pessimism’ by telling the truth have delivered real pessimism with their barrowloads of erroneous claims about the NHS crisis being the result of ‘Tory greed’ and ‘mismanagement’ – while a Labour government would, naturally, have made it a paradise. The 15 years of the Blair/Brown Labour governments’ cruel anti-working class attacks in the service of rampant capitalism have been conveniently air-brushed out of history.
The NHS was never a perfect model from its inception, but it has been kicked, battered and chopped to the point where the delivery of any service now is a miracle performed daily by its staff – under draconian rule and in the most stressful situations. When people talk about their love and support for the NHS, it is these staff members that they are referring to, not whichever puppets of the bourgeoisie are in parliamentary power or the various top-heavy slabs of management trying their best to undermine and weaken the NHS so as to bring in more privatisation while stuffing as much cash as possible into their own pockets.
The NHS has always been hamstrung by the fact that every appliance used, every medicine dispensed and so on is supplied by private corporations – such as the giant pharmaceutical multinationals. Through their political connections to both main bourgeois parties, these corporations are able essentially to force their wares on the NHS at prices that are very favourable to themselves, reaping fat profits from the public purse and forcing up the bill for this essential public service.
Add to this the government cuts to staff, wards, cleaning procedures, etc. of recent years, the PFI debacle (which also sucks money out of NHS budgets into private pockets), and the foundation trust system (responsible for at least 400 unnecessary deaths in Mid Staffs hospital – these last two both being mainly Labour party initiatives) and it is hardly surprising that the NHS today costs more and more to deliver less and less – and seems to be in an almost permanent state of crisis.
On top of all that, both the main ruling-class parties have constantly packed national and local health boards and committees with people motivated by greed who often have very close connections to private medicine and related businesses. Then the bourgeois politicians and their presstitute colleagues feign surprise when these wolves left in charge of the sheep pen are seen to take advantage of their position!
Some senior MPs are now demanding an inquiry into the extraordinary revelations that nearly 1,000 NHS bosses received £100,000 (including pension contri-butions) each last year, while the top 50 hospital bosses took home more than £400,000 each in the same period.
Across the country, NHS bosses collectively received £35m in pay rises alone last year! Even at those hospitals with the ‘worst financial crises’, it is often found that directors enjoy pay packages worth up to £5,000 a day. The annual cost of paying salaries and sweeteners to these bosses who are milking the NHS stands at around £210m a year nationally, despite what we are told is the worsening financial state of the service.
The number of NHS bosses with pay packages averaging £185,255 (being more than that awarded to the Prime Minister, who gets a mere £142,500) rose by 30% last year to nearly 600. Of course, the idea that someone working for the health of the people should receive more than the ruling class’s ‘Chief Executive’ is not particularly unpalatable in itself, but these people are not working for the health of anything except their own bank balances, and, as such, are as undeserving as the Prime Minister of such ill-gotten gains at the public expense.
The latest revelations show that some of these NHS fat cats sat on the very committees that handed them their huge pay rises – a rather obvious conflict of interests. Moreover, many of the health chiefs are avoiding tax by channelling their huge salaries through their own private companies, while others are being rewarded for destroying public services with new jobs – either within the NHS or in private companies working parasitically inside the NHS.
According to a Daily Mail report, one temporary executive was ” paid £25,000 for two months work but spent much of this time in a villa in Spain and a spa resort in California.” The newspaper revealed that ” a footnote in the report of Derby Hospitals Foundation Trust explained a payment to its chief: ‘Susan James retired on 30 March 2014 and was in receipt of NHS pension as at 31 March 2014, she was subsequently re-employed by the Trust on 1 April 2014. ”
There is a provision that was originally (or so it is claimed) put in place to help lower-paid nurses and other NHS workers who might struggle to get by on just their pension, that such staff should be allowed to work part-time after starting to receive their pension. This has become a lucrative loophole exploited by many highly-paid executives, some of whom have secretly ‘quit’ their job for a day, worked part-time for a month and then returned to their posts full-time on the same huge salary as before.
Another NHS boss to pull the same stunt is Peter Herring, CEO of the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, who claimed a £252,000 tax-free lump sum from his pension pot by ‘retiring’ for a day – then immediately returned to the same job. Once the money had been released, he could carry on working.
Under the rules, however, to get the money early he had to retire for 24 hours and then work for no more than 16 hours a week for the following month. Unbelievably (or maybe not), the trust did not publicise that its £185,000 chief executive had ‘retired’ or that he was not working full-time for that period, but was still paid his full salary while limiting his hours for a month in order to get his hands on the £252,000 sum.
Another boss, Tricia Hart, chief executive of South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, was awarded a £35,000 rise, increasing her salary to £220,000. She also had an additional £1m added to her NHS pension pot that year, bringing it to a total of £2.39m. The failing trust that she presided over declared a financial deficit of £4.4m and was being investigated over deeply-concerning death and infection rates – a direct result of underfunding necessary work and workers.
In fact, Ms Hart was also, during that lucrative year, carrying out a government review of the NHS’s complaints procedure. She spent at least several months of the year occupied with this, though her trust was unable to say exactly how much of her time it took up. Because of the shortfall in the trust’s funds, Hart declared that front-line jobs would have to go in order to tackle the deficit.
In a statement to staff in November 2014, she warned that further staff reductions ” as we adopt new ways of working and delivering quality services” may be necessary. The trust now admits that the figure could have risen to as high as £48.3m. That represents a more than ten-fold increase in the deficit in just two years. Meanwhile, Ms Hart stands to receive a tax-free £330,000 lump sum from her pension pot when she turns 60.
In South Tyneside, NHS executive Lorraine Lambert withdrew from the NHS pension scheme when her pension pot approached the tax-free lifetime allowance limit (£1.5m) in 2012/13. In her annual report last year, Lambert wrote that the NHS was “suffering a severe set of challenges” – including a “major financial shortfall“. This shortfall, she said, was so severe that it threatened ” the long-term sustainability of the service itself“.
But while forcibly tightening workers’ belts, she took an extra £20,000 on top of her £165,000 salary – as ‘compensation’ for missing out on yet more NHS pension benefits after choosing to leave the scheme!
A North Cumbria boss, Mike Walker, was handed more than £1m in 2013 – 40 times the average salary in his area. The former surgeon got a £220,000 tax-free pension lump sum when he turned 60 last year. He has officially ‘retired’ from his job as medical director with a £1.6m pension pot, but has now returned to the trust on a ‘flexible’ contract.
All of this obscene nest-feathering by executives has been going on while the staff suffering under their orders faced cuts and frozen pay along with working conditions that left them feeling like inmates of Bedlam at the end of every shift.
Health service workers and their trade unions, along with various patient and community groups and charities have all condemned the disgusting greed revealed in the report, and all three main capitalist parties prior to the election waxed lyrical about what they would do if elected. Well, the election is over, and we will now have a chance to see what the governing party or the others are really going to do about it.
The smart money will be riding on them all continuing to use the issue as a political football to be kicked back and forth across the green benches of parliament, while doing absolutely nothing to stop either the small-fry executive parasites or the big-time parasitical corporations from continuing to suck the life blood out of our public health service.
Meanwhile, workers would do well to learn the lesson that there is no help to be got in solving workers’ problems from the careerist spivs in Whitehall. In or out of government, and in whichever bourgeois party, they are well paid to confuse and divert us on every issue of importance, while allowing the ruling class to get on with implementing whatever policy they see fit in the background.
We need to remind ourselves that access to a decent, properly-planned and fully-funded health service that is completely free and designed to meet the needs of the people should be a right, not a privilege in this day and age. Moreover, we need to remember that good health comes not only from having a proper health service, but also from access to decent housing, to useful work, to adequate leisure time and facilities, to lifelong education and training, and to good quality, nutritious food.
All these things are well documented and perfectly within our reach. We know what is needed, and we have the means to provide these basic facilities to every human being. What stands like a ghost in the machine between us and the simple implementation of the solutions to our problems is the capitalist system of production and distribution that currently dominates the globe.
Only by organising ourselves to bring about a revolutionary change in society will we make it possible for the solutions to be implemented – and not merely for a lucky few and for a short time, but for all the generations to come.