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OPINION

Reforms will make cash tills ring and leave us all the poorer

The government’s mantra “No decision about me without me”, has turned out to be pie in the sky.

By the time you read this, the Health and Social Care Bill will have had its second reading and, no doubt, been pushed through with the same determination as tuition fee increases.

However, this bill is different. No one should be under any illusion that the NHS is protected or safe in the government’s hands. If these changes go through, the NHS will never be the same.

This is a once in a lifetime occasion when all of us in nursing and midwifery cannot, and must not, sit on our hands, nor can
I was delighted that Unison nurses and midwives turned up outside Parliament to make their opposition heard on the day the bill was debated. They are among a growing number of people, including David Cameron’s brother-in-law, who believe that this is the wrong bill at the wrong time.

We need to speak to our colleagues, patients, relatives and GPs. We must see our MPs and tell them why we oppose the plans. Where possible, we should ask them to work with us to kill the bill - if they want our trust and votes, they must earn them. Nursing can and must be a strong voice of objection.

Handing over £80bn to GPs is a dangerous experiment and will change forever the relationship between them and their patients

We all see the impact of the government’s demand for £20bn in so called efficiency savings in the NHS. On top of the pay freeze, posts are being frozen and jobs being cut. Nurses have been given redundancy notices and the situation can only get worse if this bill goes through.

Handing over £80bn to GPs is a dangerous experiment and will change forever the relationship between them and their patients. This is not becauseGPs cannot be trusted, but because it will force them into a situation where they will have one eye on the patient and the other on the balance sheet.

For me, one of the most dangerous aspects of the bill is that it introduces price competition into the NHS. It contains repeated references to “maximum prices”, which will allow companies to enter markets as loss leaders to gain a foothold.

We have all seen how big supermarkets come into an area and squeeze out local shops by cutting prices - that could be the fate of our hospitals. And, once the competition is gone, what happens to prices then? Will taxpayers have to foot the bill for executive bonuses and shareholder dividends?
There is no fallback option for bankrupt hospitals to return to the NHS - they can be sold off to other bidders and only services designated as essential will have to be provided elsewhere.

The NHS will be dismantled. We will see hospitals close, fewer nurses, poorer care and our jobs and services privatised. There will be no nursing leadership because services will be commissioned by GP consortia.

The proposals in the bill were not constructed overnight - they reflect the Tories’ years in opposition. They know how important the NHS is to people, so they couldn’t risk including them in their manifesto. Their objective is clear: a lot of pain now, in the vain hope that, come the next election, we will forget the bad days of 2011.

We must not forget the founding principles of the NHS. They are what drives many of us to come into work every day.There is still time to save the NHS - join our campaign at tinyurl.com/Unison-Save-NHS. We’re not opposed to change - far from it - but not change for its own sake. The bill is not about providing a better NHS - it is about opening the door and letting private companies take over.

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