1970s >> 1974 >> no-841-september-1974

NHS On The Rocks

When the Labour government nationalized private medical service in Britain the state took over. From then on all hospitalization, treatment, dentures, spectacles and prescriptions could now be got “free” on the health scheme. We could even receive specialist and consultant advice without the question of private fee. After-care in convalescent homes by the seaside or in the country was available if specified. It stopped short at such things as recuperation on the Riviera or Swiss Alps.

Thirty years later we now take a look at the state of Hire-Purchase Medicare. Consultants threatening to work to rule. Dentists and General Practitioners threatening to withdraw from the NHS. Technicians, Radiographers, nurses, ambulance drivers, cleaners, kitchen staff, porters, launderers (all but the kind ladies of the Women’s Voluntary Service), having withdrawn or threatening to withdraw their labour. Operations deferred because of the pressure of work or the lack of surgical beds. The government cannot buy enough kidney machines because they are too expensive. Kidney cases just have to suffer. It is reckoned that as many as half-a-million patients are queuing up for beds. Why does an ill person have to wait?

In 1946 Aneurin Bevan, the Labour Government’s Minister of Health, was so concerned about the health of the working class that he forgot momentarily about the health and welfare of those workers who would be running the show. Ever since the loyal servants of the state health institutions had to fight to keep their real wages from being whittled away by the increased cost of living. Now they have started kicking. In order to make it worth while for the consultants Bevan agreed that they should be able to carry on private business. It was arranged that a percentage of private patients be accommodated privately in special wards and wings of the NHS hospitals.

Now apart from the individual worker who insures himself, or the company or Trade Union who insures their employees or members with such bodies as the British United Provident Association or the Hospital Savings Group, who could possibly afford this treatment? When these patients go into hospital one special benefit might be a bed straight away. The general situation will be NHS standard, that is ordinary NHS bed and food. But there are two quite different standards of medical attention and what is the priority? Money of course— what can you afford?

So the great Nye and the Labour Government decreed that the best, or better, treatment during illness will be bought. And here to prove it are some facts. Salmon, steak, strawberries are a few of the tasty dishes you can actually order if you are resident in what’s comically known as the “Fulham Hilton” better known as the new Charing Cross hospital. In addition a bedside telephone and colour TV. That is if you are stingy enough and only wish to pay £174 per week. A better deal may be the London Clinic at £252 per week. This is exclusive of the consultant’s fees. You are expected to employ him if you wish his personal attention. The consultants wish to retain this, not surprisingly.

After thirty years so many people are suddenly piqued about it as if it only started happening yesterday. The present Labour Minister of Health thinks it is unjust and wants a year or so to phase it out. The CP’s Morning Star refers to it as “a galling class question”. Yet they support privilege and inequality in Russia.

So no matter what they do they still finish up with two distinct standards of treatment. One of privilege and prerogative and privacy. The other utility, austerity and cheapness.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain had no illusions about this capitalist makeshift health plan for the working class. A patch-’em-up-and-get-’em-back-to-work-as-cheaply-as-possible service. And to think that this cheapskate make-and-mend of capitalism was delivered by the Labour Government in the name of “Socialism”!

Joe McGuinness