Comment: Top up fees don’t belong in the NHS

Nancy Taaffe from the Socialist Party

Credit: Nicolas J Leclercq via Unsplash

We all know the problems the NHS is facing. We all hear the horror stories every day of long queues, delays to treatment, strikes, and staff shortages. Apart from all this being true, and my support for the strikes for fair pay for nurses, junior doctors and all health service professionals, I am concerned by recent calls for NHS top-up fees by former prime minister Tony Blair.

NHS top up fees are a poisonous medicine being proposed from some political quarters to solve the NHS’s woes. We are increasingly hearing politicians, from both the Conservative and Labour parties, calling for top-up charges in the NHS. This means that not only will people pay for the NHS through taxation, they will be asked to pay extra for some services.

I, and the Socialist Party of which I am a member, totally oppose this call. Last month, Tony Blair authored a report that said the current crisis in the NHS warrants a radical ‘rethink’ and top-up charges have been mentioned. I would like to point out that this is precisely what Tony Blair argued for when tuition fees were introduced in higher education.

Initially, Tony Blair argued that only the most able would pay top-up fees, but soon enough these top-up fees became universal, and then they were hiked up to £9,000 a year by the Conservative and Lib-Dem coalition. This proposal smoothed the way for a whole
generation to be saddled with debt that it will never pay back.

I oppose the Tories calling for increased charges to access healthcare, but it is pretty much to be expected from them. From its inception, when thousands of hungry soldiers came back from war and established the NHS, along with working class communities, the Tories have wanted to dismantle it. It has never been safe in Tory hands.

But, I also oppose Tony Blair’s proposal of top-up fees and Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting’s call for more partnerships with private hospitals into the mix as a solution to solve the current financial crisis in the NHS.

Thatcher and Blair used ‘disaster capitalism’ as a means to privatise whole swathes of British industry. This is one of the reasons we
are so poor and so exposed to financial pain right now. The Socialist Party will not accept that a future Labour government could be the Trojan horse by which NHS top-up fees are introduced, as they were for university fees.

We don’t want an American-style healthcare system in Britain. Back in 2005, the Socialist Party warned that the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) would be a millstone around future generations’ necks. We now know that the PFI at Whipps is bleeding the hospital dry at a time when they could do with the money. We must battle to re-found a socialist NHS built on the principles it was founded on, and to extend the socialist ideal of free healthcare for all.

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