NHS privatisation: a proposition that is sure to draw a wide variety of heated emotion. And for good reason! Whichever one of the two alternatives is eventually chosen by the UK, the ramifications that it will have on us are both deep and wide-ranging. Over the past few years, the tide has definitely swung in the favour of those espousing privatisation, with 70% of NHS contracts awarded between April 2013 and 2014 going to the private sector. It is no secret that the NHS remains the best healthcare system in the world. However, does the prospect of privatisation jeopardise this national treasure? Does privatisation really go against the very ethos which the NHS was founded upon?
In my honest opinion – absolutely.
There is a fundamentally flawed assumption these days that capitalists would love to put NHS into private ownership. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. While the basic capitalist ethos of competitive markets are well and good in the vast majority of scenarios, healthcare is one scenario where this does not apply. It is my firm belief that healthcare is a universal right for everyone, regardless of how much you earn, your creed, or your colour. The intrinsic problem with private ownership of healthcare is that profit would be placed on a pedestal, above the health of people. In the profit driven, neoliberal capitalist world in which we live, profit has increased tenfold in importance. Nowadays, it is almost everything which these corporations live for. Now, that can be a good thing in some scenarios, but when we are getting into matters of life and death, we should not let money come into it by even an iota. If the NHS was privatised, the quality of healthcare would be compromised in favour of gaining a comparative advantage over competitors, through spending cuts to healthcare. In a modern, developed society, this is not something which we can allow to happen.
Another evil also comes attached to NHS privatisation: red tape and a lack of accountability. In the current NHS system, when something goes wrong, it can be traced back to the source, and something can be done about it. However, if the NHS was put in the hands of private corporations, it would become very difficult for one to track where exactly the cancer is. What this leads to is a lack of accountability in healthcare, and a regressive system. With the health of people more than other things, it is very important to keep progressing and improving, otherwise we cannot treat the latest and most potent diseases on the scene. We cannot increase the duration of people’s lives, and we cannot improve people’s quality of life. Without this, how can we define our healthcare system as a progressive one? Democratic accountability for one’s actions needs to continue, and corporations do not have that. In a nutshell, the NHS needs to keep improving in order to sustain itself, and with privatisation, it just won’t do that.
Often, when talking about NHS privatisation, we think about ourselves, but what about the poor NHS workers? As aforementioned, corporations need to make a profit, and if they need to cut costs to do that, then they will say, “so be it”. This has the potential to have horrific consequences, as there will be great unemployment to increase profit margins, putting many out of a job. The corporations controlling the NHS will also compromise the high skilled employees already working for the NHS, replacing them with more low skilled ones who will be paid less. When people are not paid enough to do a particular job, they lose their incentive to do that job, and so perform it somewhat lackadaisically. This leads to a domino effect, to the detriment of the people being treated, as their treatment may be flawed or incomplete in some way. If every single man or woman is not being treated well, then the very grounding upon which the NHS was founded is gone. The same is true for all the other points, and if we want to keep our healthcare system the best in the world, we must speak out against its privatisation.