We’re following the US into a private healthcare nightmare

Joanna Taylor 13 January 2017

Finally, we get to see up-close what the Tories’ “long-term economic plan” actually is. It’s their favourite phrase, beating even “Brexit means Brexit” (it might not make much sense but clearly they couldn’t use “long-term Brexit plan”), and was the premise on which, arguably, the 2015 election was won: Ed Miliband failed to defend or even properly address Labour’s deficit following the global financial crisis and Brown era, paving the way for David Cameron's victory. 

Even for those who remember seeing an enormous photograph of Cameron’s face next to the words “we can’t go on like this. I’ll cut the deficit, not the NHS” on billboards (fittingly, it rather looks like he’s trying to keep a straight face) or the infamous Brexit bus promising it £350 million a week, it shouldn’t come as a shock that the Tories have sabotaged health care with cuts so deep that the Red Cross labelled its current state a “humanitarian crisis”. 

We all know what’s going on here. Funding is starved by the Tories, whilst the extra pressures of winter and ever-increasing demand for services is blamed (I’ve also seen "NHS bureaucracy" cited by The Telegraph and the "self-interest" of GPs and hospital staff by The Daily Mail, although no-one seems to have plumped for immigration this time round) and then the Government swoop in with the magical solution of privatisation, before gloating at the next general election about the extent to which they've balanced the books. 

At this point I agree with last night’s Question Time audience member that it’s all very well and good sitting around and talking about this as a political issue, but real people are waiting well over four hours and even dying in A&E because this is happening. At PMQ’s Jeremy Corbyn raised the case of one sixteen-month old child who had to be seen on two plastic chairs pushed together because there weren’t enough beds, a photograph of which was printed on the front page of The Mirror

In a supposedly developed country, this is absolutely disgusting. 20 hospitals have declared a Black Alert due to overcrowding, cancer operations have been cancelled, and there have been heart-breaking stories of patients passing away in hospital beds because they weren’t reached in time. For citizens of the UK to die for others’ political point-scoring is genuinely horrendous.

But it’s not as bad as what’s yet to come. The logical conclusion of this “long-term economic plan” – full privatisation of the NHS, which successive Labour governments have fought against since Aneurin Bevan – will turn health care into a paid-for luxury. It’s at this point that the Tories will mutter something about trickle-down economics (another favourite phrase) and fall back on the central lie at the heart of any capitalist society: everybody has equal means to acquire wealth, and therefore if you can’t pay your health care bill you haven’t worked hard enough. 

This lie, this all-consuming lie, is made all the more galling by the tax havens, nepotism, private schooling, and all-round privilege of the wealthy elite, and it’s also one of the reasons why Donald Trump is so popular in rural America. For capitalism to run smoothly, the disadvantaged have to believe that they could be a billionaire Donald Trump if only they played their cards right: of course it mustn't have anything to do with his small loan of a million dollars. 

It’s an oft-quoted principle that where America goes, Britain follows. Trump has yet to formally take office and yet he’s already spearheading the total repeal of Obamacare – is this a man we want Britain to follow? Do we want to live in a country where medical care is accompanied with a receipt, and where people die of curable illnesses because they couldn’t afford treatment? Can we stomach a culture of judging between the deserving and undeserving poor? 

It’s often said that Britain follows America, but it’s also often said that right-wing UK politics is a centrist equivalent in the States: surely we can't surge so far right that we value payment over the health of our citizens – but it looks like we already are.

The NHS is at a vital crossroads which could prove devastating for ourselves and others, and particularly the less fortunate in society. We cannot stand by and allow this to happen. It is now more important than ever for Labour to offer a strong and clear challenge to the Government – although others appear to favour in-fighting and tinkering with antiques. 

It is also important that our generation, for whom these changes represent yet another future evil, stand up in whatever way we can. Whether you sign a petition, consider donating to or supporting the campaign group KONP, write to your local MP, raise the subject with friends and family, organise a protest, research this subject further, or support Labour through your vote, we must do something: the price of not doing so is too high.