PETER GRANT: "OUR NHS IS NOT FOR SALE. NOT TO ANYBOD, NOT AT ANY PRICE. NOT NOW AND NOT EVER."
On Friday 6 November I’ll be presenting a Private Members Bill, the Trade Agreements (Exclusion of National Health Services) Bill for its second reading in the House of Commons. The Bill delivers a key SNP manifesto promise from December 2019.
In the 1980s I had a career change and embarked on a professional accountancy qualification with the Scottish Health Service, based at Fife Health Board. At the time Fife Health Board owned and di
rectly managed every NHS hospital and clinic in Fife, directly employed all the hospital-based health care and support staff, and directly provided a range of Fife wide support services.
To keep tabs on all of this expenditure the Board’s staffing included eleven professionally qualified accountants.
By the time I handed in my notice five years later the Tories’ “marketisation” of the Health Service was in full swing. Fife Health Board had been carved up into three independent “NHS Trusts” who between them owned and ran all the hospitals, clinics, and most other Fife wide services. Fife Health Board itself occup
ied nothing more than a couple of admin office blocks and did not provide any direct patient care.
To keep tabs on this massively reduced level of direct expenditure Fife Health Board still employed eleven professionally qualified accountants. The Trusts between them employed several times that number. In the Board and in the Trusts whole departments had sprung up, of accountants, contracts officers, procurement officers and administrators of all kinds.
I’ve seen no evidence that a single patient experienced any better care as a result of the “efficiency”
this new army of bureaucrats represented. They didn’t even improve the Board’s financial management. They ignored warnings from me and others of significant financial weaknesses until the problem became a budget crisis that was too big to hide anymore.
Meantime millions of pounds of public money had been wasted. Thousands of dedicated frontline NHS workers had either lost their jobs or been forced onto much less favourable contracts. Needless to say, those who had overseen the disaster were allowed to retire with their pensions intact.
That’s what happened the last time the Tories were allowed anywhere near our NHS. Today, despite the fact that Scotland has never voted Tory in my 60 years of life, they’re coming for our Health Service again.
Their “Internal Market Bill” is designed to allow a Tory minister in Whitehall to tear up the devolution settlement, overturn years of work by our SNP Government in bringing vital parts of the NHS back into public ownership and control, and pave the way for our precious Health Service to be sacrificed on the altar of a trade deal with the USA.
My Trade Agreements (Exclusion of National Health Services) Bill does exactly what it says on the label. It will deny any UK minister the power to sign a trade deal unless it excludes the NHS. It will require the explicit consent of the four national parliaments of the UK to the effects of any proposed deal on the NHS in their respective countries. The Bill is being co-sponsored by MPs from 6 parties and all four nations in the House of Commons.
Your SNP MPs are delivering on the 2019 manifesto that saw us win an overall majority of Scottish constituencies for the third time in a row. I’ll also be in the strange position of helping the Tories to deliver on their manifesto, because they also promised to keep the NHS out of any trade deals. This, however, was a Tory promise and we all know how much they are worth.
The NHS is too precious, too fundamental to the kind of society the people of Scotland want to live in, to be used as a bargaining chip by Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings. It’s more under threat now that in was even in the days of Thatcher.
We need an Act of Parliament that sends a message round the whole world. Our NHS is not for sale. Not to anybody, not at any price, not now, and not ever.
The Bill is also supported by MPs Paula Barker (Lab), Joanna Cherry (SNP), Stephen Farry (Alliance Party of Northern Ireland), Claire Hanna (SDLP), Neale Hanvey (SNP), Ben Lake (Plaid Cymru), Caroline Lucas (Green Party), and Dr Philippa Whitford (SNP).