Our mission. Save the NHS
Following the passage of the Health and Social Care Act this year, many people fear that the NHS is in real danger. Aneurin Bevan's three founding principles – that it meets the needs of everyone, that it be free at the point of delivery, and that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay – are all under threat.
And on Thursday a group of concerned health professionals, frustrated that politicians have shown they simply can't be trusted when it comes to the NHS, are launching a new political party.
For 15 years there have been covert moves to transform the NHS from an integrated service, publicly delivered and publicly accountable, into a fragmented service delivered by a ragbag of competing providers. But the insidious agenda of privatisation and outsourcing of the service, that began under New Labour, has accelerated under the coalition government.
In 2009 David Cameron told an enthusiastic nurses' conference there would be no more of "those pointless reorganisations that aim for change but instead bring chaos". Yet within two months of the coalition being formed, Andrew Lansley produced the most radical plan for NHS change since its inception.
Now postcode lotteries mean some are already paying for services that others receive free. Restriction of core treatments such as joint replacements force those who can afford it to take out insurance or pay for operations while those who can't go untreated. Hospital websites are already talking of "self-funding NHS patients" – which should be an oxymoron and would have puzzled Bevan. And hospitals, many in financial trouble because of crippling PFI payments, are looking for paying patients.
The NHS seems destined to become a logo, a brand; and indeed at a time when thousands of frontline clinical jobs are being cut, the NHS jobs website has advertised for a £97k "head of brand". In some places, such as Surrey and Devon, private monopoly is already replacing the monopoly of the publicly provided NHS: charities and social enterprises stand little chance when tendering against companies like Serco and Virgin, with their expertise in winning public-service contracts.
New providers are likely to make profits by changing the working conditions of staff and cutting back on services. Commercial confidentiality means public accountability will become a thing of the past. The new financial arrangements, with their potential conflicts of interest, threaten the relationship of trust between GPs and patients that lies at the heart of primary care. Surveys show the public don't approve of the new ethos, either, and that they don't benefit when competition replaces collaboration and when illness is a commodity to be traded.
Out of this perfect storm of broken promises, cuts, closures and privatisation, Thursday sees the birth of the National Health Action party, led by Richard Taylor – for nine years the independent MP for Kidderminster – and by Clive Peedell, a clinical oncologist. Initially it will be a single-focus party whose aim is to protect the vital, cost effective and popular NHS. We will not challenge MPs who share our aims and who are committed to restoring and protecting the NHS.
Since 2000, governments have pursued a policy for the NHS which the electorate hasn't voted for and doesn't want. This disregard for the public combined with the "shock and awe" tactics of the coalition means there is no alternative but to challenge politicians via the ballot box.
Tony Blair is said to have advised Cameron to press ahead with the "reforms" because, after the passage of the bill, opposition would die away and "it would be as if it was ever thus". The NHA party aims to put the NHS firmly back on the agenda and to give voters the opportunity to have the patient choice they have never been offered – to reject the dismantling of the NHS.