The NHS Action party are not just a one-trick pony. Fielding 13 candidates in the general election, they have policies that encompass issues from the economy to immigration, Europe and housing. Examples include re-nationalising the buses and railways, and they warn that the rich will eventually “live in gated communities with private security forces”. They also state categorically that “MP’s are given jobs in the private sector after leaving office”, which makes one wonder if would they rather that they be ‘given’ jobs by the public sector instead.
Dr Clive Peedell, their co-leader, is standing against the Prime Minister in Witney, and the other co-founder is Dr Richard Taylor, the former Wyre Forest independent MP. Both Dr Peedell and another of their candidates, Dr Louise Irvine, are council members of the doctor’s union, the BMA. Dr Peedell is also chair of what used to be called the NHS Consultants’ Association, which is now called ‘Doctors for the NHS’, and believes that the NHS is being “dismantled” in some way.
This misinformed opinion is a common theme for the NHS Action party and other groups such The People’s NHS - an organisation which believes, in the face of much evidence to the contrary, that the NHS is at risk of sale to foreign investors via the TTIP agreement. Even Liberal Democrat candidates such as Luke Taylor have debunked the NHS-TTIP myth.
The People’s NHS describe themselves as a community campaign to stop NHS privatisation, and their short promotional film is ridiculously bad: it shows a worried lady on a British hospital trolley who has an intravenous tube running from her arm, and the camera follows the blood-filled tubing out of the room, into a toilet bowl, down into the sewer, out into the sea, and up onto a tropical beach where her blood drips slowly into the cocktail glass of a waiting foreign business man. It has to be seen to be believed, but please don’t boost their YouTube hits. These groups are also using very similar logos to that of the NHS (Frutiger font in Panetone 300 blue to be precise), which is subject to Crown copyright.
Dr Peedell believes that we should never give tax relief on private health insurance, which defies logic – since if those people who choose to spend their income on health insurance thereby relieve the state of some of its burden, then this means that there is more money left over to spend on the health of those who can’t afford to. Would his party prefer to dilute the service even more?
His publicity stunts have included running the 160 miles from Anuerin Bevan’s statue in Cardiff to the Department of Health in Whitehall, and running from there to Witney, where he travels the constituency by bike and ambulance. He has recently complained that he was excluded from the local Witney Churches’ Hustings, going as far as tweeting the Archbishop of Canterbury himself to ask why (although he may have forgotten that one of his earlier stunts was to bury a mock coffin depicting the NHS on the Church Green).
Not only do such groups try to frighten the public, they may actually undermine confidence in the NHS itself. Even the left-leaning healthcare think tank, the King’s Fund, disagrees with claims of cuts to either staff levels or funding over the course of the coalition. What parties like NHS Action fail to recognise is that no government of any persuasion has ever purposefully cut NHS funding. What has happened over the years is that technologies and treatments have rapidly increased in success and costs, people are living longer, and funding must be applied more efficiently.
We only expect an NHS hospital to run at a surplus (we say surplus rather than profit in healthcare) of two per cent in order to keep ticking over into the next year, and the delusion on the Left is that conservative business people are eyeing this greedily. Simon Stevens, the NHS’s Chief Executive Officer, published a five year plan in October which states that more efficient use of resources, combined with the increases in health spending that we have promised, will help to close the £30 billion funding gap that is forecast by 2020/21.
Allowing more autonomy for hospitals to increase their revenues outside state funding may be anathema to these groups, but they should look at what have become known as beacon or exemplar services within the NHS – such as the Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital, which generates revenue from private beds which can be then be fed back into the organisation.
Old-fashioned purists such as NHS Action need to climb off the fence on the moral high ground and admit that, despite their party’s name, they are to the left of Labour as far as health policy is concerned. Their desire to protect the unworkable status quo of the health service is at variance with the views of respected healthcare economists such as Richard Bohmer or Clayton Christensen. They are not single issue pro-NHS campaigners, they are simply anti-Tory – and would get a rude awakening under a labour government.
In 2010, the Prime Minister was opposed in Witney by – among others – Count Nikolai Tolstoy, Howling Laud Hope and Aaron Barshak at the ballot. This time around the opposition is less exotic, but just as futile.