Is Health a Right or a Business? New legislation to privatise the UK NHS continues its march undeterred

13.10.2011 - London - Silvia Swinden

*”The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being…”* World Health Organisation (WHO) Constitution.

Asclepius or *Aesculapius* was the god of Medicine and Healing in ancient Greek religion. The rod of Asclepius, a snake-entwined staff, is used as a symbol of medicine today, for instance by the WHO. Hermes, messenger of the gods, was also patron of commerce. His caduceus, with its two entwined snakes and wings is also used by many, mainly US, private medical bodies. The two symbols seem to precisely allegorise the argument between models of healthcare: Public or Private, for well being or for profit, universal or discriminatory, compassionate or socially Darwinist.

The British National health Service (NHS) was created in the post-war era to provide universal coverage, funded by taxes and free at the point of delivery. It is one of the best loved institutions in the UK, and in spite of bad press the experience in general (and, of course, there are exceptions) is that it is very reliable. A recent [study]( http://www.gponline.com/News/article/1083812/NHS-among-cost-effective-health-systems-world/) also showed it is one of the most cost effective in the world.

In spite of this the present Government, as part of the horrendous cuts it is making to everything – except to war and regime changing in other countries as well as modernising nuclear weapons – is opening the NHS to private provides, creeping towards the US model of healthcare. US medicine was described by [Noam Chomsky]( http://www.pressenza.com/npermalink/the-london-rebellious-media-conferencex-chomskyxs-advise-to-the-xoccupy-movement) as “an international scandal, private, unregulated, cruel and savage, with 50 million people who have no cover of any kind. If the US had a system like the one the UK is destroying there would be no deficit”.

When someone in a British hospital makes a mistake the scandal hits the papers and TV news in a way that suggests the whole of the NHS is rotten to the core. Nothing is said about the millions of people who use its very efficient services every day. In the US medical errors are simply dealt with by lawsuits costing as much as $54.4 billion in 2008, constituting 2.4 per cent of total healthcare spending.

Michael Moor’s documentary “Sicko” looks at health care in the United States as provided by profit-oriented health maintenance organizations compared to free, universal care in Canada, the U.K., and France. Then he takes several 9/11 heroes with chronic ailments due to the toxic environment created by the fall of the Twin Towers, who are denied treatment by the US system, ending up in Cuba, where they receive free care. In “Bowling for Columbine” he puts foreword the thesis that although there are as many firearms in the US as in Canada, the Canadians do not go around shooting one another because they do not have the US culture of fear *and* because they feel looked after by their healthcare system.

The Health and Social Care Bill is careering towards its undemocratic completion with only [a third]( http://www.nhscampaign.org/NHS-reforms/the-reformed-reforms-2/opinion-poll.html) of the population’s support and no mention of it in either of the two parties in the Coalition Government’ pre-election manifestos. The business model is winning. So, who believes it should be a Right?

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