At the Labour conference last week, Andy Burnham accused Jeremy Hunt of failing to make any statements about important current health service issues in parliament since he became health secretary. What a pity he decided to speak up last week, because now we know just how uninformed he is. Hunt said he favoured reducing the abortion time limit to 12 weeks. Really? How much more irrelevant can it get with this government? But he wasn’t alone. Maria Miller, who became women’s minister in the recent shuffle, had already expressed her personal opinion on the abortion time limit in the Guardian. Theresa May was then pushed to take a view on the Today programme on Saturday, and (not to be left out) David Cameron also offered his two cents’ worth on the BBC. A bit like lemmings, except that they all had different views, and the government, according to Cameron, has no plans to put forward legislation anyway. Still, every news outlet in the country seems to have picked up on it. Is that what the media are for these days—to report every off-the-cuff, unthought-out opinion that comes down the road? Give me a break. This is non-news.
What is news is that Andy Burnham found out that 398 contracts for health work in eight NHS areas went private this past week—contracts worth a quarter of a billion pounds—and that this is only the beginning, with another £750 million in contracts already lined up for next year. What is news is that Jeremy Hunt is going to preside over Tory plans to slash the number of teams of NHS specialists providing high quality care for cancer, heart disease, and stroke, involving the loss of jobs of hundreds of senior NHS health professionals, down to fewer than half of current numbers—in a country with an ageing population, where cancer, heart disease, and stroke are the three leading causes of deaths and services are needed more than ever. What is news is that a nurses’ leader was told that her seriously disabled daughter, who is unable even to cross the street on her own and needs 24 hour care, has been judged to be “fit for work.” All reported in the Guardian this past week.
This is crisis level stuff. We cannot wait until 2015 to vote out this government. By then it will have destroyed local council services, libraries, the education of our children, universities, Sure Start, the trains, social welfare services, home care services, mental health services, and disability and unemployment benefit. It will have made more and more people unemployed, wrecked the life chances of a whole generation of young people, and sold off much of the National Health Service to private interests. There is a national demonstration against the cuts and privatisation of all health and social welfare services on 20 October in London. What we really need are demonstrations around the country. Everyone working in the NHS and everyone who has ever been a patient of the NHS and owes their health and life to the NHS, as I certainly do, needs to support it in some form, whether on the street, at a local meeting, of which there are many, or through a letter to their MP.
At the demonstration, I urge the NHS Federation, Keep Our NHS Public, 38 Degrees, and all the health professional associations and royal colleges to call for a general strike against the government’s policies on the NHS. By next April, when all the changes set in place under the Health and Social Care Act go into effect, it will be too late to stop them.
As for the abortion time limit, I don’t expect Jeremy Hunt to know anything about that. As my MP Mark Field, a Conservative Party backbencher, said in an email to me on 7 September 2012 when I wrote to ask him for Hunt’s qualifications for the job of health secretary: “As you will know, ministerial appointments under any government often bear little relation to a politician’s CV… Jeremy has experience in setting up and running his own businesses so at least has entrepreneurial and management experience.” So why are we putting responsibility for health into his hands then?
In any case, I can assure Jeremy Hunt that if he does seek to reduce the abortion time limit to 12 weeks, he will face the fight of his life from the women of this country—and he will lose, because we will absolutely not accept it.
Marge Berer is the editor, Reproductive Health Matters.