Here is the text of a letter that two nurses from Sheffield handed in to Nick Clegg today;
Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP
Deputy Prime Minister
12th March 2011
Dear Mr Clegg
We are writing to you on behalf of over 10,000 UNISON members who work across the NHS in Sheffield and are citizen’s and voters who value our National Health Service. We, our members and their families are extremely concerned about your Coalition Government’s plans for the future of the NHS as set out in the recently published Health and Social Care Bill 2011.
We believe that these plans will fundamentally alter the NHS as we know it and undermine the basic principles on which it was founded. We do not feel that the general public knows or understands the scale or likely impact of these changes, and would not support them if they did. These reforms if delivered, will allow private companies to manage commissioning and service provision on behalf of GPs, and ultimately turn the NHS into little more than a brand name attached to a range of competing services within a fragmented health system, little if any, of which is publicly provided. Already the big health companies are circling the NHS, like vultures, waiting to exploit the changes.
Set out below are some of the key issues and implications which are of most concern to us, our members and their families, and we believe would also be of major concern to the public if they realised the impact of your Government’s proposals, all of which have prompted us to write to you:
Price over quality
• Even though the Secretary of State has performed a u-turn on introducing price competition in the NHS UNISON wants this promise delivered, by making sure that NHS guidance reflects the policy change. The Government should have the operating framework amended to make it clear that there should be no price competition. If price competition is indeed no longer Government policy, it needs to ensure that loopholes aren’t exploited that would bring in the tendering of clinical services
• Despite this u- turn the Health and Social Care Bill will undermine the NHS. The whole direction that Andrew Lansley is taking will give a boost to private health companies at the expense of local NHS hospitals, with the potential for local communities hospitals to close and local services to be displaced significant distances from the locality.
Unfettered competitive ‘free-for-all’
• The Bill reveals the government’s determination to force through competition for its own sake. The repeated references to the Competition Commission and the Office for Fair Trading are completely at odds with a public health service that must be treated as distinct from the likes of the privatised utilities.
• The Bill, if enacted, will open the NHS up to EU competition law – which will make it virtually impossible for services to return to the public sector once they have gone to private companies thereby destroying the NHS as we know it.
• The use of “any willing provider” will create a larger role for healthcare companies such as American multinationals like United Healthcare and will destabilise NHS providers.
• The sharing of ‘best practice’ which is a foundation of the publicly provided NHS will disappear as a result of these changes as private companies start guarding their intellectual property rights and cease exchanging information unless fees or charges are paid for it.
Private patients prioritised
• The Bill will remove the cap that restricts the amount of money hospitals can make from private patients that pay for their care.
• Hospitals are likely to prioritise treatment for private patients to bring in extra money, pushing NHS patients to the back of the queue.
• There are no reassurances given that private income will have to be reinvested
in NHS services.
• The NHS is under massive pressure to find £20 billion of savings, despite promises of ring fencing and budget protection. Now is not the right time to embark upon the largest reorganisation in its 62-year history.
• The changes will create a postcode lottery - the lack of local and regional oversight provided by primary care trusts and strategic health authorities, which your Government are dismantling, will lead to greater inconsistencies in quality and access to services.
• Safety could be compromised as well – how will the new commissioning consortia take care of crucial issues like resisting a swine flu pandemic?
• There will be considerable job losses across the NHS bodies that are being abolished and far greater instability for those working in other parts of the NHS.
• Staff transferred to commissioning consortia will be at the mercy of their new employers who will decide whatever pay, terms and conditions they see fit.
• Commissioning consortia will not have employing authority status, so transferred staff are likely to lose membership of the NHS pension scheme.
Make no mistake, these reforms will utterly destroy the NHS that we know and love. The Bill is being pushed through by the government in spite of the widespread concern raised from groups as diverse as the BMA, the NHS Confederation, numerous health and social care charities and our Union, UNISON. There is still time to influence the shape of these reforms and we are asking you and your Liberal Democrat colleagues to realise your error and support changes to the current Health and Social Care Bill proposals to help protect the NHS from being dismantled and handed over to the private sector.