New Years Eve 2021

Christmas 1

NEW YEARS EVE: Behind the NHS tinsel and glitter is the reality of life and death – 24/7 operating, assessing, measuring, scanning, recording, medicating, exercising, washing, cleaning, feeding, transporting – and we give our heartfelt thanks to all NHS workers for caring for us in many varied ways over the festive period and throughout the year….
Some say that the NHS is a system or organisation – but we know that it is our friends, relatives, the guy next door, the woman in the cafe and that person up the street who want to do their very best – not “angels” or “heroes”, but people with families and homes who have their own share of happiness and joy and stress and sadness and who, at work, are caring and hardworking professionals who want to make a difference.
Throughout 2022, the Government now need to match this by providing a good working environment – and not running down our services; by ensuring adequate staffing – and not diminishing our workforce; and by paying a fair wage – and not a low wage.
Behind the tinsel and glitter, that is the reality. 2021 has been a long and difficult year, and we give our sincere thanks to all NHS staff. We also thank all KONPNE supporters for their persistence in fighting for a publicly funded, publicly provided and publicly accountable NHS, which is available to all. Thankyou for being part of the team in 2021 – and we’ll be back in the New Year to join forces and to continue the fight. See you then – and wishing all a very happy and healthy New Year
xx Keep our NHS Public North East

Covid-19 Testing Laboratories and privatisation

Many thanks to a member of KONPNE for this overview on developments regarding Testing Labs – crystal clear that every aspect of the Governments response to Covid-19 is typified by privatisation.

covid testing

In recent weeks the media has been consumed with talk about testing and there has been much discussion concerning the privatisation of goods and services relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. This article discusses the first of these.
Since the start of the pandemic, it has been acknowledged by many public health experts that an efficient test, track and trace system was vital for the UK to reduce the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The government strategy of a centralised system has come under a great deal of scrutiny and criticism. In September, Maggie Rae (President of the Faculty of Public Health) stated in the BMJ (21/09/20) that localised systems of contact tracing, with a more agile and intelligent testing strategy such as is seen in Germany, could work to better effect, with potentially less testing.
At the start of the pandemic, in response to the need for extra testing capacity, the government chose to set up the centralised system of Lighthouse laboratories in collaboration with private companies and universities, and not with pre-existing NHS laboratories. This did not meet with universal approval; many public health experts called on the government to utilise and develop the local laboratory infrastructure.
Testing was designated into four groups known as ‘Pillars’, two of which are relevant to this discussion. Testing carried out in healthcare settings for NHS workers and patients going into hospital is referred to as Pillar One. These tests have been caried out in NHS and Public Health England (PHE) laboratories.
For the general public, with suspected community acquired infection, testing is designated Pillar 2. These tests are performed in the country-wide Lighthouse laboratories that receive swabs from the commercial drive-in/walk-in test sites set up by Deloitte; the £12 billion Test and Trace contract. The availability of Pillar 2 testing has been an issue and in September the Sunday Times (13/09/20) reported that swabs were being sent to Italy and Germany for analysis.
The President of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences, Allan Wilson, stated The Lighthouse lab model isn’t sustainable in the long term, and we need an exit strategy, (BMJ 21/09/20).
Clinical virologists writing in the BMJ 15/10/20 stated
“The opportunity to bring together UK laboratory expertise…was lost as a result of a spurious assumption of lack of capacity, leading to the outsourcing of pillar 2 testing to Lighthouse laboratories. This approach, divorced from the NHS and Public Health England diagnostic expertise, has [had problems] accessing testing, sample receipt and processing, test quality, and data linkage to public health and other NHS structures. All of these would have been minimised if the testing programme had been developed and expanded…[using]…existing NHS centres of expertise…”
Development and expansion of pre-existing facilities was required because successive governments had presided over a series of changes and cuts to the UK Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) which had worked alongside the NHS hospital laboratories.
The PHLS had been set up in 1946 with the passing of the National Health Service Act that year. It became a nationally organised network of laboratories which were able to exchange information about new scientific and epidemiological methods. The laboratories could collaborate and support one another when outbreaks of infection occurred and facilitate a response to national challenges. In 1994 the PHLS comprised approximately 50 laboratories, organised into nine groups across England and Wales. In addition, there were two national centres: the Central Public Health laboratory and the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre. Thus, the PHLS was able to deliver an integrated microbiology and epidemiology service to the population of England and Wales.
In 2003 the PHLS merged with additional facilities to form the Health Protection Agency which protected the population from infectious diseases and environmental hazards.  As stated on GOV.UK:
The Health Protection Agency’s role was to provide an integrated approach to protecting UK public health through the provision of support and advice to the NHS, local authorities, emergency services, other Arms Length Bodies, the Department of Health and the others. The HPA became part of Public Health England in 2013”.
Writing in the Guardian, 01/04/20, Professor Paul Hunter (Professor of Medicine at the University of East Anglia) stated:
“Many of the laboratories in the old network were shut down, taken over by local hospitals or merged into a smaller number of regional laboratories”.
Following another reorganisation, Public Health England became the body whose remit included to protect the population from infection.  But now, following further cuts, there are just four ‘public health’ laboratories and yet more reorganisation has been announced as stated on GOV.UK:
“Public Health England has a superb professional and scientific base, on combating infectious disease, other health hazards and other risks to health….But [it] has not had the at-scale response capacity we have needed to handle a full-blown pandemic…”
…so government cuts have come home to roost, but there is a new plan…
“To give the UK the best chance of beating COVID-19, and continue to monitor, identify and be ready to respond to other health threats, now and in the future, we are creating a brand-new organisation to rigorously extend our existing science-led approach to public health protection – the National Institute for Health Protection.”
Public Health England is now to be replaced by the National Institute for Health Protection, headed initially by Baroness Dido Harding.
The following links provide some additional reading:
Covid-19: Government ramps up “Moonshot” mass testing BMJ 17 Nov 2020.
Covid-19: politicisation, “corruption,” and suppression of science    BMJ 13th Nov 2020
Government fails to publish details £4 billion shady Covid contracts  The London Economic 9th Nov 2020
BMJ lashes out at UK ‘state corruption’ and ‘suppression of science’  The London Economic 16th Nov 2020
Corruption and covid-19—the story so far  Transparency International  8th July 2020
Government test tsar has £770,000 shares in drugs firm that sold us £13million of “pointless” antibody screening kits—after it emerged that Sir Patrick Vallance has a financial interest in company racing to find vaccine  Daily Mail 26th Sept 2020
Covid-19: Mass population testing is rolled out in Liverpool BMJ 3rd Nov 2020
See also: All rapid responses  BMJ  11th and 16th Nov 2020
Covid-19: Rapid test missed over 50% of positive cases in Manchester pilot   BMJ 6th Nov 2020
Testing times for the government’s favoured antibody kit BMJ 16 Nov 2020
Mass testing for covid-19 in the UK  BMJ 16 Nov 2020


More information is on our “Covid-19 and NHS Privatisation” webpage here

Why it is crucial that MPs vote for amendments to the Trade Bill: Parliamentary scrutiny and NHS protection

Dr Sarah Walpole, Newcastle-upon-Tyne


“We were absolutely gobsmacked” – the words of Prof Boland whose research has just highlighted that bottle fed babies are consuming in the order of a million microplastic particles per day. Why was this such a gobsmacking result? Well, firstly, because it wildly outstrips previous estimates of adults’ microplastic consumption; World Health Organization studies suggested that adults consume 300 to 600 microplastics per day. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, because of the potential health implications.
While the health risks of microplastics are not well understood and certainly not well quantified, the precautionary principle applies here. Given that microplastics may harm babies’ growth, development and health, avoiding introducing microplastics into babies’ milk is a sensible precaution.
Legislation in the USA has tended to pay less heed to the precautionary principle. Which is why, for example, USA law allows cosmetics companies to use any of over one thousand chemicals (some of which are likely carcinogens) in the make-ups, creams and other products that US citizens apply to their skin. And also why it is important that we pay attention to the Trade Bill and future trade deals if we wish to maintain regulations that are in place to protect health in the UK.
The Trade Bill: Decisive for UK standards, the UK health services and UK health
The Trade Bill is the piece of UK law that will determine how the UK designs, debates and agrees to future trade deals as well as how previous deals, agreed when we were in the EU, will be ‘rolled over’. It will determine the extent to which the UK maintains its existing food standards, labour rights and cosmetics legislations post-EU exit. The Trade Bill is now going through the House of Lords, where a date for the ‘Report stage’ is awaited. After it has been voted on by the Lords, it will go back to the House of Commons for decisive votes by MPs, our elected representatives.
Members of Parliament (MPs) will be voting on an amendment to the Trade Bill which allows ‘Parliamentary approval of trade agreements’ (amendment 57). This amendment would give MPs a chance to scrutinise and debate future trade deals before they are agreed and become enshrined in international law. With this scrutiny amendment in place, MPs would have a vote and the chance to ensure that UK standards are protected.  
An alternative future is one where trade deals are passed without MPs having a say on the contents. There are mechanisms in international trade law through which corporations can promote their own interests, even if this might be at the expense of public health. Any company with a foreign operations base can challenge the UK government under international law (sue them under the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS)) if they perceive that the government is putting up barriers to trade. For example, if the UK government tried to limit the sale of cosmetics containing asbestos, the company selling the cosmetics could sue the UK government in the international corporate courts.
Managing invisible, future risks – challenging, but critical
Microplastics fall into a broad category of things that you cannot see, which may cause you significant harm. It’s difficult enough to take into account risks that are invisible, but to add to the trouble, the harm that microplastics may cause is likely to be felt at an unknown point in the future. Prof Boland and his team have developed simple guidance on how parents and carers can prepare bottle milk avoiding such high doses of microplastics. Yet, it’s challenging to encourage healthy choices in relation to microplastics, not only because you can’t see them, but also because there is a delay between making positive changes and potentially reaping the health benefits.
In ‘The Intelligence Trap’, David Robson explores some of the biases that cause humans, regardless of their intelligence, to make ‘stupid’ decisions. These include ‘future discounting’, where we do not count future benefits as highly as those in the present, and the ‘availability heuristic’ where we pay more attention to risks that are easier to bring to mind.
Trade legislation faces some similar issues. Trade issues are not news items or an area of policy that enjoy a high profile in the media. The connections between UK domestic law on trade (the UK Trade Bill), the loss of state protections and the rise of corporate power and influences on health may seem tenuous and complex; yet there are clear and critical risks to the health of UK populations if we do not pay attention to these issues.
Protecting public ownership – the only way to keep our NHS
We have seen increasing marketisation of the NHS over recent years, and this leaves the NHS open to trade on the international market unless it is explicitly excluded from future trade deals. The risk to our beloved and yet neglected NHS if it is opened to trade on the international market, is that privatisation is locked in. Resultant privatisation could be irreversible beyond any one parliament. An international company could sue in the corporate courts using ISDS if the UK government tried to bring a health service back into public ownership.
Private healthcare providers with new models and ideas might seem an attractive proposition, but directed from abroad and lacking in responsiveness to local needs and accountability to local communities, would these companies really be able to promote health and provide high quality, sustainable healthcare? The realities would only be experienced once the damage had been done and there was no turning back.
The NHS provides a safety net for everyone. We have become so used to this luxury that we may not recognise how much it affects our lives. For over 40% of people who get cancer in USA, their treatment costs them most of their life savings. In the UK, cancer treatment is free on the NHS, even though cancer medications can cost thousands. Without careful scrutiny of a future trade deal with the USA, we are likely to see medicines prices rising towards USA levels (often four times as much). This would be unsustainable for the NHS and lead to many medicines being available only to those who can afford to pay for them.  
MPs will soon vote on the Trade Bill – ask them to protect the NHS
The Trade Bill will soon return to the House of Commons and be voted on by MPs. To protect the NHS and UK population health, our demands of MPs must be clear.
Firstly, the fate of the NHS is in their hands. To ensure that parts of the NHS, from service provision to digital services, are not contracted out to foreign companies, we call for MPs to vote for an amendment to keep health services off the table in future trade deals (amendment 51).
Secondly, it is critical that MPs are involved in decisions about matters as important and influential as trade deals are binding under international law. We can ask our MPs to vote for the scrutiny amendment (amendment 57) to ensure that current and future MPs have a vote on future trade deals, a necessary provision for democracy to endure in the UK.
Dr Sarah Walpole works at a hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and is a member of Keep Our NHS Public North East.
For more information about the Trade Bill Campaign, please click here

NHS Trade Deals are still on the table & MUST be resisted

Allowing businesses to buy up parts of the NHS through international trade deals would fragment a national institution that we depend on and mark the end of the NHS as we know it.

Dr Sarah Walpole, Junior Doctor, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

I’ve seen the damage that treating healthcare as a business, and the patient as a commodity, can do.
This reality first hit home for me when I was a junior doctor in cardiology. A patient had come in with chest pain and we were reviewing images of their heart in a clinical meeting. We were surprised to see that they’d had a heart valve replacement. When they’d previously attended hospital with chest pain they’d had only limited heart valve disease.
The patient’s consultant filled in the gaps – apparently, while on a short trip to the USA, the patient had experienced chest pain, attended hospital, and been advised by a cardiothoracic surgeon that their insurance company should pay for a heart valve replacement. We’ll never know for sure whether their heart valve disease had suddenly got much worse before or during their trip to America, but it would be a vanishingly rare scenario.
In private healthcare, a financial incentive exists alongside an information imbalance. The person who holds the information and makes decisions about what intervention is or is not needed also stands to gain financially if the intervention is provided. In the USA and many other countries, conflicts of interest exist between those who fund medical research, those who write guidance for health professionals, those who develop and sell medications and medical devices and those who provide healthcare services.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of collecting and bringing together information about the spread and treatment of diseases to guide effective policies and planning. During COVID-19, a private provider, Serco, was given the contract for disease monitoring, Test and Trace.
Test and Trace has fallen far short of what was needed – many positive COVID-19 cases have not been followed up. The government could have used the UK’s existing public health systems and experts to run a programme to monitor COVID-19, which would have ensured links to local public health knowledge, effective planning and public health capacity development.
It is important that NHS and public health data is stored safely and securely and used to improve health, not sold to private companies or used by businesses to make profits. If amendments to the Trade Bill are not passed to exclude the NHS and supporting institutions such as the National Institute for Clinical Excellence and Public Health England from future trade deals, our health data may be held by companies in other countries where rules on data protection are less stringent.
Failing to exclude UK health services from international trade deals may cause the prices of some medicines to skyrocket. Some drugs that patients rely on may become unavailable on the NHS. Certain medications would be out of reach, except for the very rich, so health inequalities would increase.
A critical problem with allowing the NHS to be part of international trade deals is that we would ‘lock in’ marketisation. International trade law promotes international trade by putting more power in the hands of businesses. Businesses can sue the government if they deem that the government is putting up ‘barriers’ to free trade. And if things go wrong or a service isn’t up to standard, it is difficult or impossible to end a contract with a private provider early.
Donald Trump has said that ‘Everything will be on the table’ when it comes to trade deals with the UK. Whilst he has later rowed back this comment, the reality is that unless there are specific provisions in Monday’s Trade Bill to exclude the NHS from future trade deals, the NHS and UK health institutions remain very much ‘on the table’. And we must take our lead from the British public, three-quarters of whom do not want the NHS included in any trade deals.
The NHS is unlike any other health system in the world. It was designed to meet health needs without discriminating and it still has these principles at its core. Like most UK health professionals, I chose my career because I wanted to help patients and improve health, and I feel fortunate to have trained as a doctor in a publicly provided health system where negotiating contracts and providers has not been part of my role.
MPs have a chance to vote in amendments to the Trade Bill that would protect the NHS by excluding it from future trade deals. I stand with fellow health professionals in urging MPs to stick with their election promises – and cast a vote for the NHS.
Dr Sarah Walpole is a Junior doctor and member of Keep Our NHS Public who has written an open letter NHS_Staff_OpenLetterToMPs_FINAL to the UK government signed by 450 high ranking NHS health professionals and academics calling for the NHS to be excluded from all future trade deals.
This article was written for the national KONP website and was published on 20th July 2020 here. The national website also contains a range of relevant links and information.
Click here for more information about the local KONPNE Trade Bill campaign.

Welcome to North Tyneside Council….the lights are on, but is there anyone at home?

Our elected representatives on local Councils are the only piece of democratic accountability in the CCGs “Integrated Care System”

John Whalley, KONPNE Steering Group member and retired nurse


Ever had that feeling that you’ve asked someone a crucially important question (one which means the difference between life and death), and you’ve been fobbed off with nebulous platitudes of empty nothingness? The response from Cllr Margaret Hall (Chair, North Tyneside Council Health and Wellbeing Board) to last weeks formal question from Keep Our NHS Public North East was totally underwhelming.
Two years ago, in March 2018, North Tyneside Councillors unanimously and impressively passed the motion that “we agree to oppose any proposal to implement the delivery of healthcare in North Tyneside via an ACO / ICS, a project which in North Tyneside CCGs own report was stated to be high risk”. (1)
In North Tyneside, we clearly had a Council to be proud of; a positive force to be reckoned with in standing up against NHS England’s and local CCG’s plans to railroad through a health system which will ultimately lead to increased privatisation and the demise of the NHS. This system, originally known as “Accountable Care” and subsequently rebranded as “Integrated Care Systems”, is imported from the United States where healthcare is privatised, underpinned by health insurance, and is definitely NOT equitable, accountable, or available to all in need.
So, fastforwarding to 2020, where are we now? Sadly, it seems, in downward spiral. Over the intervening months, KONPNE became increasingly alarmed by a number of reports in Council minutes which, seemingly, indicated a softening of approach and a warming to the demands of NHS England and the local CCG.
At the full Council meeting on 16th January 2020 (2), Dr Helen Groom, retired GP, local resident and member of KONPNE formally asked the following two questions on behalf of Keep Our NHS Public North East:
Initial question: “What evidence does North Tyneside Council have that members have opposed or even raised objections to the ICS? In becoming part of the ICS, what safeguards have you obtained on behalf of North Tyneside residents to ensure services will not be privatised?”
Supplementary question: “Given that North Tyneside Council appear to be in equal partnership with North Tyneside CCG in developing the Integrated Care System in the borough, what risk assessments have been carried out specifically by North Tyneside officers with regards to the Integrated Care System and the possibility of this developing into a private health system which is underpinned by private health insurance?”
Given growing concerns about Council decision-making, KONPNE anticipated a certain amount of gloss, but the reply from Cllr Margaret Hall, on behalf of North Tyneside Council, was astonishing. In a prepared response, Cllr Hall stated publicly that “there is no need to oppose or object to the ICS, as there are no proposed changes to services” (not yet, Margaret, but there is an urgent need for you to do more reading around the subject to see where the ICS is heading…and, whilst you’re at it, also check out your own Labour Party’s policy: “We will stop Tory plans to further entrench the private sector delivery of health care under the cover of integration plans set out in the NHS Long Term Plan” (3)
Additionally, seemingly unfazed by her stance and in response to our second question, Cllr Hall went on to surprise the Chamber by stating “There is no way that North Tyneside Council would agree to privatisation in North Tyneside” (err, Margaret, just down the road at North Tyneside General Hospital, all of your “Urgent Care” and “Out of Hours” services are now privatised, and GPs throughout the Borough are scratching their heads and needing to discuss with patients private options following cuts to specific treatments that were up until recently available on the NHS).
We are unsure if this response by North Tyneside Council represents a head in the clouds (“don’t understand”) stance, or if it signifies a head in the sand (“don’t want to understand”) stance but, whichever, there is an acute need for the head to re-engage with reality.  Whilst, no doubt, some North Tyneside Councillors are still willing to stand up and be counted regarding our NHS, we suggest that others need to see the bigger picture and not be taken in by the lengthy documents, smoke, mirrors and gloss offered by senior CCG officers. There is no excuse for this seemingly lack of insight by Councillors – much has been discussed locally and nationally, both within and outwith political parties and, together with many academics, Professor Allyson Pollock (Newcastle University) has researched and reported widely on the methodology strategically employed by the Government regarding NHS privatisation. (4)
The building blocks are in place and now that we have a Tory government for at least 5 years, so they have the political means to complete the privatisation of the NHS. Unlike those working in the CCG who are paid to carry out policy as dictated by the Government, our elected representatives on local Councils are the only piece of democratic accountability in the CCGs “Integrated Care System”. As such, it is CRUCIAL that Councillors hold firm in fighting against the covert introduction of cuts and privatisation, and do not passively collude with the political decision to dismantle our NHS.  The people of the North East are placing our trust in our elected Councillors to continue to stand up for a fully funded, publicly owned and publicly provided National Health Service, which is available to all on the basis of need and NOT the ability to pay. 
Dr Groom said after the meeting: “It remains our great concern that North Tyneside Council appear to have done a U turn and ridden roughshod over a Council motion unanimously passed two years previously, and have become complicit in the CCGs plans. Members of KONPNE were astonished by the response from Cllr Hall on behalf of North Tyneside Council; we will, of course, be taking this further, as we still require full and respectful responses to our concerns”.
Jude Letham, Co-ordinator, “Keep Our NHS Public North East” said: “Our group has been in existence for over ten years, and is made up of members of the public, including doctors and nurses – many live and work in North Tyneside. We believe in a publicly provided health service, and also believe it to be the responsibility of EVERYONE to stand up for these ideals, using whatever ways and means we can. All Councillors bear this responsibility”.
2   (pg 33)

Conservative win: But our movement is stronger than ever

We’ve given the December 2019 General Election campaign everything we have. But the struggle to save our NHS must grow if the NHS is to last another term of the Conservatives in office.

A message from national KEEP OUR NHS PUBLIC

ballot paper

The Conservatives have won the election.  And there’s no questioning that this is devastating news for the NHS. It was a close fight but their lies and media spin, backed by right-wing billionaire media moguls swayed the electorate. Though the NHS was the biggest issue for so many people, in the end the vote was on Brexit – not austerity and public services. But our message also reached a huge number of people, and all is not lost. Over 4.5 million watched our videos, one million people signed our #HandsOffOurNHS petition and hundreds of thousands of people engaged with our content. And millions of people voted for other political parties whose stance on the NHS is much closer to our own. It’s clear there’s a huge and growing audience for our message and an army of people willing to get involved to save our NHS.
The strength of NHS campaigning forced the Conservatives to make electioneering promises on the NHS and we will hold them to what they said. We will expose the lies and campaign for safer funding, safer staffing, an end to privatisation and protection for the NHS from trade deals.
Now is the time to redouble our efforts, take to the streets and join the fightback.
The news that Conservatives have been asked to form a Government doesn’t bode well for the future of our services, the last ten years have shown exactly how they defund, deregulate and privatise the NHS and now they intend to include its services and drugs in trade deals with the Trump administration. Pursuing their plans for local ‘integrated care systems’ – 44 separate NHS units in England – will see further rationing or exclusion of important NHS treatments and more, huge multi-billion pound private contracts. But they won’t get away with it in silence – we won’t let them.
Our Co-Chairs of Keep Our NHS Public, Tony O’Sullivan and John Puntis said:
“We are truly proud of the campaign waged in defence of the NHS by Keep Our NHS Public, by Health Campaigns supporters and so many NHS staff, students and campaigners up and down the land. We have made a very real difference and have contributed to ensuring the NHS was high in voters minds. We are very disappointed at this election result. We believe the result could have been even more disappointing if we had not been so active. By challenging the lies of Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and those who went before them we have highlighted the truth about the crisis in the NHS. Now we must deny Boris Johnson the way clear to continue his project, which includes trade talks with the US which will endanger the NHS in a US-UK trade deal post-Brexit. We now resolve to continue to campaign, lobby and fight to ensure that our voice is heard and our demands are met to fund the NHS fully and to return the NHS to 100% public duty and provision as soon as possible”.
We fought a hard campaign about which we can be incredibly proud. And our movement is now stronger than ever. This means we’re in a strong position to grow and keep up the pressure whatever comes next.
Even though our supporters, members and staff worked tirelessly to achieve all this, we will not rest until the NHS is safe. 2020 is when the struggle for our NHS continues.

Inspiring and thought-provoking

The “Health Campaigns Together” northern conference, Leeds, 2018 – an inspiring and thought-provoking day.

Sean Laws, KONPNE supporter and North east activist

Sometimes it is easy to feel isolated and as though you are fighting a losing battle in the world of campaigning, especially when it comes to the seemingly relentless onslaught of NHS privatisation. That however is not something I felt when I attended the northern region conference of “Health Campaigns Together” in Leeds last week. Although the NHS has been pushed onto a cliff edge and is only surviving because of the hard work and determination of its increasingly exhausted but dedicated staff, there was a sense of optimism and togetherness around the conference. Attended by representatives from many different campaigns around the northern region including Newcastle, South Tyneside, North Tyneside, Tyne Valley, Rothbury, York, Leeds, Chorley, Manchester and many others fighting to keep their local hospitals running and the united goal of ending privatisation in the NHS as a whole.
Attended by around 200 activists, clinicians, former health workers and people who simply care about OUR NHS, we heard reports from each grass roots campaign group and the work they are doing to make a difference. This format, bringing in the real life experiences of those around us, was a great tonic for all campaigners. Stories of hospitals staying open, services continuing to run and the struggle against ideologically driven privatisation are as strong as ever and were inspiring to hear. 
Alongside the campaign news and morale boosting cameraderie were a number of speakers including Dr Colin Hutchinson, a former consultant opthalmologist and clinical director, as well as being one of the five signatories to the judicial review into the lawfulness of ACO’s. Natalie Ratcliffe, unison area organiser, spoke about how trade unions work together behind the scenes and Alex Scott-Samuel, chair of Socialist Health Association, a former junior doctor and mover of composite 8 at the Labour Party conference in September spoke passionately about how the NHS has made such a difference to his life.
It was with this same passion that Alex lead the workshop, of which there were four, aimed at “galvanising Labour and other MPs & councillors to defend our NHS & support legislation to reinstate the NHS”. At the end of the session each workshop chair presented back the information and ideas that had been worked on. The other workshops were about how to “build local campaigns against cuts and closures”, “challenge ACO/ACS and STPs” and “supporting NHS staff fighting for fair pay and conditions” – all workshops providing really insightful and valuable things to bring back and put into practice. 
Taking something away not only from other peoples experience and enthusiasm but also having gained new friends, I would say bring on Health Campaigns Together conference 2019…. but hopefully by then our NHS will be in safer hands and it won’t be necessary!
With many thanks to Health Campaigns Together, KONP Leeds, and all who helped to make the day so successful.


….and the KONPNE vlog of the day is here….enjoy!!



ACO’s are the price of life

The government attacks on our NHS is a disease. But we are the medicine.

Evie AKA punkfoodbandita,  North East blogger


A couple of weeks ago I attended a public lecture at Newcastle University titled ‘Is US style healthcare the future for England? It was held by Allyson Pollock a doctor who is a consultant in public health medicine and director of the institute of health and society at Newcastle University.
She was joined by Professors Steffi Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, two doctors who were advisors to Bernie Sanders and have been long involved in the fight in advocating non profit national health insurance in the US and have travelled to give us a real life dystopian glimpse of what we can expect if we allow this system to be implemented here.
The message all of them gave was clear. The move towards US health care provision is not hypothetical. It is already happening. It’s been a gradual move and one which the government is trying to sneak in without us noticing. They’ve adopted a similar stance that I did, when, aged 14, I wanted to dye my hair blue. I was forbidden outright by my dad, but when I discovered he is so severely colourblind that he could barely differentiate between different colours, I went ahead and did it anyway. He had no idea until one of the neighbours grassed me up, by which time the damage was done. He demanded an explanation and I just flat out denied I had blue hair, despite the evidence of my ears looking like a smurfs and there was a ruined towel stuffed at the back of the airing cupboard that I was praying wouldn’t be discovered.
But this isn’t a bottle of blue hair dye they are trying to sneak into the house. it is accountable care organisations, without it being discussed in parliament and without any consultation whatsoever. And the funny thing about accountable care organisations is that they are anything but accountable.
In fact ACO’s are only accountable to the health insurance company that holds the treatment budget for the population it covers. They dictate what treatments are available and who can get them, which is usually determined by who is cheaper to treat and more likely to recover enough to keep earning money to pay insurance to them. If they come in under that set budget, they get to keep it. What better incentive do they have then to cherry pick their patients and deny treatment to those in need who they deem unprofitable?
There are other signs, too. The NHS act 1946 placed special duty on the secretary of health to provide health care for all. No one could be left out. This duty is no longer in place. We are seeing care services dismantled and hospitals closing, or ‘merging’ as they like to call it as they honestly believe we are that fucking stupid. Here in the north east there is a fight to save South Tyneside hospital A&E, maternity and acute stroke services.
And yet the government tells us that these things are nothing to worry about. That we will still be receiving our healthcare. That this will make the ‘failing’ NHS better (plot twist: it is failing deliberately so we will welcome any odious changes they try to make).That we are over reacting.
Nothing to worry about.
At the moment, 30 million Americans do not have health insurance. This has been reduced from 50 million since the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare as it was nicknamed). In 2016 36,530 Americans died from preventable deaths due to no insurance.
American patients delay seeking help for suspected heart attacks and skip care more often. Patients insured through Medicaid- a state and federally funded insurance scheme for low income individuals and families- are denied or delayed care significantly more than those with private insurance.
And even if you do have private insurance, you’re rarely in a better position unless you happen to be really wealthy. You still have to pay deductibles when you have private health insurance and many of those who have it say deductibles are making their health insurance useless when they are having to pay sometimes thousands of dollars upfront before the insurance kicks in. 60% of those who are medically bankrupt became so despite having private health insurance. Medical debts account for 52.1% of items sent for debt collection.
Americans are now dying younger, life expectancy is falling, the gap between the life expectancy of the rich and the poor is becoming larger, and the US has seen an unprecedented increase in maternity mortality.
But the profits are huge. Health insurance salaries are between 17 and 47 million pounds a year- that’s over $100,000 a day which comes out of their patients pockets. People are dying because they can’t afford medicine while drug company profits hit $67.7 billion a year. David Himmelstein joked that as a doctor he was here to stop the spread of disease. The disease being the greed of private healthcare systems. And he knows a lot about this. In 1996 David was fired by US Healthcare, Inc for speaking out about how doctors are paid more for providing less care and can find themselves unemployed if they don’t. Health insurance companies write gagging orders and the right to fire without any reason into their doctors contracts.
He told us about the Tenet healthcare corporation (formerly National Medical Enterprises) who have found themselves in court for fraud and their horrifying treatment of patients, including unnecessary open heart surgery and electro-shock treatment and for literally kidnapping psychiatric patients, holding them without due reason until the day their insurance expired and then kicking them out on the street.
65% of US hospices are for profit businesses. And we are going the same way, rapidly. Listening to what was being said was nothing short of terrifying. Have a think about the people you love- how many of them have or have had health needs which, if not treated, would lead to an early death? And what would happen if you were told you had to pay thousands of pounds in order to save their life, even if you had insurance?
The NHS is something many of us take for granted. We aren’t angry enough or defending it enough because most of us don’t truly believe that the move towards the US model is something that could ever happen. But it is, it has started. The accountable care organisations are the evidence of it. Civil liberties have never been given to us, they have been fought for and protected by us. The government has already begun its cull of the poor with welfare reforms and sanctions. Now is the time to get involved. It’s not enough that it is left to the usual few activists. It doesn’t matter if you don’t see yourself as being ‘political’. Most people don’t until something happens that makes them realise it is really down to us to look after each other. is a good place to start to find out where your local MP’s stand and what events are happening in your area, but don’t be afraid to start your own campaigns. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has” (Margaret Mead). We still have time to protect the NHS. It is not free health care. It is funded and paid for by us and it is not theirs to sell to the highest fucking bidder or to the company they hold shares with. Do you think our taxes will go down if it is removed altogether? Of course not. It will be spent on MP pay rises. On sprinkler systems for parliament while the rest of us burn to ash.
The government attacks on our NHS is a disease. But we are the medicine.
A big THANKYOU to Evie AKA punkfoodbandita,  who has kindly given her permission for us to include this account of the recent Public Lecture by Professor Allyson Pollock, with guests Professors Steffi Woolhandler and David Himmelstein.
More of Evie’s writing is found at

THIS is how they’ll kill the NHS

The attacks on comprehensive universal healthcare are now getting louder – we need to push back hard

Caroline Molloy, Editor of “Our NHS” – part of the independent on-line “Open Democracy” website


IT’s just been announced that smokers & overweight (BMI>30) people are to be banned from ALL non emergency services (going against stiff opposition to this plan from Royal College of Surgeons). The plan is now coming into force in Hertfordshire, and is proving to be the most extreme plan yet. 
It is very much worth sharing the article by Rachael Maskell MP (a former NHS professional herself) from earlier this year, on similar happenings in York.. and why it’s a terrible, counter-productive idea.
The attacks on comprehensive universal healthcare are now getting louder – from smokers and the overweight, to migrants, to older people, to people who move around and aren’t registered with GPs….
And it will get worse next year. We need to push back hard.




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STP: Stop, Think, Please….

How have STPs gone so badly wrong?

Roy Lilley, health policy analyst, writer and broadcaster


I’m pretty sure it was never meant to be like this.  
I said they were such a good idea.  I was a fan.
The idea that local people could get together, have the opportunity to sit down and sort out what health care could, should and would look like, in what they agreed was, ‘their area’.
The freedom to plan, shape the future in this way, might only come once in a career. 
I said they got off on the wrong foot.  Quiet, private moments of brainstorming and thoughtfulness were badly handled and deliberately misconstrued by the malevolent, as them forging secret plans.
I said, be patient, wait.  There are statutory consultation requirements.
Now we discover they have been paying out a small fortune to management consultants, to do the job they were supposed to be doing.
Now I say, with regret; how have STPs gone so badly wrong?
How have senior, sensible people let this opportunity slip through their fingers.  Why have experienced people, who should know better, not done better, than just reinvent the past.  They are reduced to system management and cuts. Consultants and same-old.
Why is it that professionals, truly focussed on reimagining healthcare, can’t work together?
I understand some STPs are being obliged to improve their clinical engagement… gimme strength. It’s a fundamental!
I hear rows about GPs having ‘no say’; STPs turning into a club for hospital chief executives… local authorities all but excluded.  Healthwatch reduced to watching and the public don’t have the first clue what to expect the future of their healthcare will look like.
If half of what I hear is right… it is 100% not what it should be.
To repair some of the public-facing damage NHSE will recruit a communications professional… to do what?  Perhaps they should advertise for a decorator, to paper over the cracks?  The damage has been done.
Wherever I go I hear about… plans.  Plans disputed, argued over.  Cockamamie ideas that primary and community care has the capacity, facilities, staff and wherewithal to do the heavy lifting for secondary care.
Really bonkers plans… close 300 beds.  Work it out; an average length of stay of, say, five days, means; every five days there’s a turnover of 300 people.  
There are 73, five day cycles in a year… times 300.
That means over 22,000, probably frail, elderly people, extra, for GPs and community staff to take care of… on top of everything else.  Genius idea…and even if I’m only half right; it’s no way to look after yer granny.
And let’s not forget people with dementia and mental health needs… everyone else seems to.
Now the talk is for more money and more beds.  Why have STPs gone so badly wrong?
STP planning is being done, in the main, on top of the day job.  Who has the time or resource to populate committees and endless meetings?  The hospitals.  Hence, it is probably true, they are dominated by secondary care.
Most STP chairs are parachuted in and chief executives ‘appointed’.  No sense of local ownership, no elections.  Recreating the heavy handed, topdown relics of the past. 
Let’s not make any bones about it; STPs exist to deliver more for less.  Undeniably, there are efficiencies at the margins but STPs will never find them.  
System management means; sending 100 people somewhere different in the system, oblivious to the fact that the places they leave behind will be filled by another 100 and then another hundred.
STPs can’t deal with demand, they can only play with the flow created by demand.  Demand is too far upstream for NHS dominated STPs to deal with; housing, work, the environment, diet, lifestyle, poverty, education.  And, the cycle of change takes too long for STPs, who need cash rattling in the tin by 2020.
Some of our austerity driven NHS is so damaged it’s beyond STPs to repair. Even the United Nations condemns our approach to austerity.
STPs?  Shuffling stuff.  Circling the wagons.  Pretending less is more.  Recreating the Jurassic Park, management model of the 80’s and 90’s.
Where is nimble, flair, innovation, inclusive, collegiate, agile, daring, bright, thoughtful, clever, erudite, elegance, mastery, inventiveness, smart.  
Where is together and connected?  Why have STPs gone so badly wrong?
STP; Stop, Think, Please…