By Glen Mynott of South East Cornwall Labour Party

We are all grateful that we have a National Health Service, and particularly with the way it has managed the Covidpandemic over the past sixteen months despite government failures. Without the dedication of our NHS workers the pandemic could have been so much worse.

However, while all this has been going on the government has been looking at other ways of reducing its responsibilities tothe NHS and giving more of its contracts to big corporate companies.

The Health and Care Bill which recently passed its second reading in the House of Commons will do exactly that. The Bill and its accompanying measures impose further restraints on spending at least in terms of cash for local NHS services, whilst dramatically watering down the public’s rights in terms of what healthcare we will have a right to receive in the future. It also gives the health secretary the power to set asidethe requirement for staff to be properly trained and qualifiedand removes the 18-week target for waiting times.

Furthermore, the Bill will repeal the section of the Care Act 2014 that requires councils to carry out needs assessments before a patient is discharged from hospital to social care services. Patients could be left without access to the appropriate support when leaving hospital as a result.

Worryingly, much of the crucial detail is left out of the Bill and it instead empowers the health secretary to fill in the gaps without returning to Parliament. It also allows him/her to appoint the local chairs of the new local health boards – so-called Integrated Health Boards – and allows them, in turn, to grant seats on those boards to representatives of private health and care companies.

These boards are given powers to decide what healthcare local groups of people will and won’t receive in future, what services are kept open, which are shut or scaled back or “digitalised”. Additionally, the Bill will make it far easier for private firms to get new contracts, and hold onto existing ones, regardless of past performance.

This Bill offers an alarming future of an underfunded and fragmented health service, which is run by and in the interests of large, unaccountable private companies. Look at what has happened to dentistry in Cornwall, where there is a long waiting list to see an NHS dentist. If we don’t want to see the same thing happen to our GP and hospital services we must speak up loudly and clearly and make it clear to those in power that our NHS is not for sale.

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