Fighting for the NHS

Union Matters

The need to campaign vigorously against NHS cuts, outsourcing initiatives and Private Finance Initiative (PFI) projects that are effectively privatising parts of the health service was overwhelmingly reaffirmed by CWU Annual Conference – the only bone of contention being an associated demand to bring the NHS’s big pharmaceutical company suppliers into public ownership.

Proposing the motion, Judy Griffiths of Coventry branch pointed out the current crisis in the NHS has been created by years of Tory underfunding and creeping privatisation initiatives which have resulted in massive staff shortages and ever increasing workloads for overstretched frontline staff.

“PFI is a huge drain on resources but a source of bumper profits for big business,” Judy pointed out, adding: “Over the next five years, almost £1bn of taxpayer funds will go to PFI companies in the form of pre-tax profits.”

Even that, she stressed, was eclipsed by the massive profits made by the NHS’s major drugs suppliers.

“The NHS is the most monumental of the achievements of the working class and the labour movement in the UK, and it’s our job as part of that movement to protect, sustain and grow the NHS,” Judy insisted.

“We have to end the disgraceful development of private companies making billions out of our health service.”

Seconding the motion, Gary Clark of Scotland No 2 branch pointed out that the issue of “pharmaceutical companies ripping us up for drugs that are needed to keep people living” is a deeply personal one for him – as his own essential medication costs the NHS £50,000 a year, even though the true cost of its manufacture is just a fraction of that.

“Multiply that all over Britain and you can see that billions are going straight to the pharmaceuticals,” he said. “People say it would be hard to nationalise these multinational companies as they are owned worldwide, but are we here to do something easy?”

Returning to the issue of PFI, Eastern regional secretary Paul Moffatt told Conference: “PFI is a rip-off…lining the pockets of fat cats at the expense of our health and the people of the UK.

Marion Brain of Birmingham, Black Country & Worcester branch cited the failure of a PFI-funded hospital building project in Sandwell which is now in abeyance following the collapse of Carillion.

“PFI was supposed to take the risk out of the public sector and put it on the private sector – what a load of nonsense. All we have is a desperately needed hospital that isn’t being built at the moment!

“We need to get all PFI out of the NHS and, yes, let’s nationalise the pharmaceutical industry because we, the taxpayer, are getting ripped off left, right and centre.”

Unsuccessfully urging the branch to remit the motion, or for delegates to oppose it, Nick Darbyshire agreed there were a “never-ending burden of virtually corrupt PFI initiatives sucking the lifeblood out of our NHS,” but insisted that calls for the nationalisation of multinational pharmaceutical companies were simply unrealistic.

However, a large majority of delegates disagreed.