Polyclinics: Not needed, not wanted

Apologies for a lack of recent posts – I’ve had some health problems.

Last year the BMA launched a petition against the Government’s assault on primary care – the community health services that are vital in ensuring a decent quality of life for millions of people. In a matter of weeks, 1.3 million people signed the petition against polyclinics – the new ‘super surgeries’ that are about handing over the NHS to the private sector and reducing access to primary care for the most vulnerable people in our society.

Our caring sharing Government listened carefully. Having totally lost the argument on polyclinics, they renamed them ‘GP-led Health Centres’. GPs are of course overwhelmingly opposed to these daft proposals, but this is not a Government that lets truth get in the way of privatisation plans. The Government instructed every Primary Care Trust to open a polyclinic, irrespective of whether there was a local need for this or not.

We’re now starting to see the results of this massive privatisation scheme. Cuddly junior Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said, “Don’t worry, we haven’t privatised all of the NHS yet – we’re just working on it”. Actually, I paraphrase. What he really said was, This rather demolishes the scare spread by some that all these contracts would go to private companies”. He’s right that not all contracts have gone to the private sector – only 25% of them  have. It would have been more, but the slide of the economy into absolute chaos has deterred many of the likely bidders, as they no longer believe they can make enough easy money out of our NHS. Virgin Healthcare, for example, has pulled out of bidding for polyclinics. Branson has decided there’s more dosh to be made elsewhere. Also the viability of the private companies that have won contracts is highly questionable. For example, Assura has won four contracts to run polyclinics – but its shares plummeted by 90% by November last year, and they were predicting end-of-year losses of £6 million. So first we privatise the NHS, and then we watch it go bankrupt? That seems to be the plan.

So are polyclinics needed? Of course not. The House of Commons Health Select Committee reported earlier this month on its own findings that the plans were seriously flawed, not adequately evaluated, and that polyclinics should have been piloted before widespread introduction. The story is here.

It’s downright extraordinary to see a Government so determined to smash up the NHS that it will force through privatisation at precisely the time that the failure of the market is clearer than ever. A priority for 2009 is to build the broad-based campaign of trade unionists and community campaigners that can stop this absolute madness.

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