Setback for Darzi

A good resource for health campaigners is the Pulse website. Targeted primarily at doctors, it has a lot of information both exposing the Government’s privatisation plans, and in publicising some of the resistance to them.

One story from Friday is about the Government’s plans to speed up privatisation in primary care, “DH announce major expansion for LIFT scheme”. LIFT is the PFI scheme which is now used for most capital projects in primary care. So far the scheme has allowed 48 companies to build £1.4 billion of facilities. The cost to the NHS, however, is far greater, because the payback period allows companies to make back their initial investment multiple times over.

But the scheme has been moving too slowly for the Government:

… the time and money required to prepare a bid will be slashed, with local procurements from the framework now expected to take about four to six weeks, compared to two years currently”.

So much for any idea that the Government are retreating on privatisation.  Less than a week after the Labour Party’s Policy Forum in Warwick, the Brown Government announces a speed up in privatisation.

This speed up is almost certainly part of the drive to implement Darzi – with his idea of polyclinics – or the virtually identical ‘GP-led health centres’ – replacing GP surgeries in every PCT.

Darzi is not getting everything his own way. It was really good to see another article on the Pulse website, “Polyclinics plans in retreat in Britain’s two biggest cities”, that shows the growng opposition to the attacks on primary care.

In both Birmingham and the London Borough of Haringey, local councillors have rejected plans to close down GP surgeries to make way for polyclinics. In both cases, this has followed successful campaigning by local GPs.

The GPC (General Practioners Committee of the BMA) has adopted a strategy of putting pressure on local council’s Health Scrutiny Committees to resist the pressure for polyclinics. They have recognised that most PCTs will just fall into line with DH instructions – whatever the composition of their boards. Scrutiny Committees, however, have a statutory duty to protect the healthcare interests of local residents, and are suseptible to local pressure. They are, after all composed of councillors who will, at some time, need to face re-election.

Everyone, including the DH, knows that polyclinics are unpopular and won’t meet the needs of the majority of local health service users. So the GPC strategy can be an effective one.

The worrying aspect of the Birmingham decision, though, was that it was Tory and Lib Dem councillors who opposed the polyclinics, and Labour councillors who supported them.

If anyone is puzzled about most health workers being desperately disillusioned with Labour, this is the sort of political idiocy that demonstrates why.

Many hundreds of Labour councillors throughout the country are Unite members.  If the Joint General Secretaries are serious about ensuring Labour win the next general election, wouldn’t it be a good idea for the Union’s National Political Committee to be mounting a campaign to get these councillors to resist the implementation of the Darzi report?

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