‘We are now an undeveloping nation’: NHS is ‘melting like an icecap’ warns retired Man Uni professor of medicine

A prominent philosopher and retired clinical neuroscientist has spoken in defence of a publicly-owned NHS, stating that we are becoming an ‘undeveloping country’ under our current Conservative Government.

Fears for the future our healthcare system are growing, as the gap between Tory funding and outgoings widens.

Raymond Tallis, an Oxford-educated philosopher and retired Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester, told MM that the NHS is ‘melting like an icecap’.

“It’s part of a whole trend in which we are actually now an undeveloping country,” Mr Tallis said at an NHS anti-privatization protest in Piccadilly Gardens, led by  Stockport NHS Watch and Keep Our NHS Public.

“In the crosshairs of their telescopic lenses, they [the Conservatives] have certain groups of people, the poor, the vulnerable, the disabled and the sick, and those are the people they’re picking off one by one.

“Slowly but surely, the NHS is melting like an icecap.

“By the way, I’ve only recently become radicalized – I voted Lib Dem in 2010 – so you’re not talking to a swivel-eyed Marxist!

“You’re talking to somebody who has been absolutely outraged by what’s happening.”

The visually striking protest came after Green MP Caroline Lucas’ NHS Bill was read in Parliament, which seeks to restore the NHS to full public ownership, with supporters including Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell.

The Bill’s reading was filibustered by Conservatives debating a previous bill, leaving only 17 minutes for it to be discussed. However, the Bill is still live and is scheduled to be debated again on April 25.

“(The NHS Bill) is doing four really important things,” Mr Tallis explained.

“One is to restore the duty of the Secretary of State to provide comprehensive healthcare. That was written into the original bill in 1946 when the NHS began.

“At the moment, as a result of the Tory bill two years ago [the Health and Social Care Act 2012], the Secretary of State only has a duty to promote, not to provide comprehensive health care.

“Secondly, the [Health and Social Care Act] in 2012 opened up all of the NHS to competition.

“Those who commission health care have to put all contracts out to tender to the private sector or to the NHS, so it’s led to rapidly increasing privatization of the NHS with dire consequences.

“Thirdly, the Bill would remove the capacity of large lumps of the NHS such as Foundation Trusts to obtain up to nearly 50% of their income from private care.

“Finally, it’s trying to get rid of an albatross that’s hanging around the NHS which is Private Finance Initiative, where many capital infrastructure projects in the NHS were funded through a joint activity with the private sector hugely to their advantage.

“We’re currently paying fivefold to the private sector for most of the infrastructure developments we’ve had over the past ten or twenty years.

“It’s quite a complicated bill but these are the things that matter to most of us and will have a huge impact on the healthcare we may or may not get in the next twenty years.”

Mr Tallis said that the impact of Tory-led privatization is already being felt, as the private sector has received around a third of NHS contracts that have gone out for tender.

One enormous contract of £5billion has already gone to the outsourcing company Capita for providing commissioning support, meaning that that they will have huge control over where NHS resources are sent.

In a 2005 Conservative policy book titled Direct Democracy: An Agenda for A New Model Party, Jeremy Hunt, the current Secretary of State for Health, outlined his support for the NHS to be replaced by an insurance-based system, similar to that used by the United States.

Mr Tallis was quick to assert that such a system would be a disaster, hence the vital function of the NHS Bill. 

“The United States has catastrophic healthcare,” he said.

“Healthcare costs twice as much per head, they spend 18% of their GDP as opposed to our diminishing 7% and their outcomes are the worst in a study comparing twenty health systems in developed countries.

“If we move towards an American-style system, then it’ll be absolutely wonderful for the multinationals who sell healthcare and catastrophic for ordinary people who will not be able to afford the care they need.”

Despite what is at stake, Labour support for the NHS Bill appears to have diminished.

When Stockport NHS Watch contacted all 27 Greater Manchester MPs asking their stance on the NHS Bill, they received replies from only a small number of them, and none actually committed to supporting the bill.

“The reason they’ve given is that Caroline Lucas’ bill would involve yet another reorganization and it’s not true,” Tallis said.

“It’s not a reorganization, it’s a reinstatement. Those four things I mentioned don’t involve any reorganization.”

Instead, Mr Tallis came up with two theories as to why Labour support is scant.

“One is they don’t like to support a bill from another party and another party get the credit,” he speculated.

“That may be unfair on them.

“The other is that there is something in their own record which they don’t like to remember, which is that they drove forward privatization during their period of office – though not along the scale that’s happening now – and perhaps they feel a little bit guilty about that.”

Regarding practical things that people can do to support the Bill, Tallis encouraged people to write to their MPs, as Stockport NHS Watch have been doing.

“I think when we look at what happens to the Bill, we need to concentrate very much on awakening people to the danger to their own health,” he said.

“We often hear in the street, ‘oh, I don’t mind who provides the healthcare as long as it’s free!’

“The answer is if it’s provided by the private sector, it will be ultimately so much more expensive that less and less will be free, and we wake up one day and find the first thing that meets us when we come in A&E is a bill.

“Last year, 900,000 people went bankrupt in the United States because of healthcare bills. It was the commonest cause of bankruptcy.

“Of those, 80% had insurance but they were silly enough to get the disease that wasn’t there in the small print.

“They didn’t choose the right disease and it ruins people’s lives, even if it doesn’t ruin their health.”

Mr Tallis emphasised that our current healthcare system works amazingly.

In 2014 the Commonwealth Fund’s study of healthcare systems in twenty developed countries found that the UK was at the top for quality of care, access, safety and value for money, based on data obtained in 2011.

This all seems a very good argument for keeping things as they are, begging the question of why the Government would want to change it at all.

“I think there’s a loathing within certain Tory people of anything that isn’t completely explicable in terms of the market,” Tallis concluded.

“I have to say, for me, it’s a battle of values versus prices.

“They understand the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

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