Wither the Socialist Health Association

I have agreed to put my head on the block and write about what I think the Socialist Health Association is for and should be doing. This follows some debate and discussion and ‘argument’ on twitter and in the Health Service Journal about the principles of the Association and what we should be promoting.

I joined the SHA because I believed it was a socialist organisation that would promote socialist principles for the NHS. Indeed article 2e of the constitution confirms this; ‘To disseminate the principles of socialism’ there has been some discussion this week on the meaning of ‘socialism’ but the Oxford English dictionary definition says socialism…. ‘Advocates that the means of production distribution and exchange should be owned and regulated by the community as a whole …’ This seem to me to fit objective 2a of the SHA constitution ‘To work for a fully free and comprehensive national health service’

Most of the discussion this week & previously has been around three major issues. Firstly the role of the private sector in the NHS, secondly the role of the Socialist Health Association, and thirdly the role of officers and board members in promoting the private sector. I will give my view on these in relation to the constitution above

The role of the private sector in the NHS

I am grateful to Clare Gerada current chair of the RCGP for summing up what many of us probably feel about this. In Monday’s Daily Politics Show on the BBC she said ‘any money going out of the NHS to a ‘for profit’ organisation is privatisation.’ That does not fit any definition of socialism I can find, especially the one above. We may split hairs and say parts of the NHS are already privatised, but the point is still one of principle and those elements that have been privatised ( like GPs) even since 1948 have still given us a free comprehensive service. But we only have to look at what has happened in dentistry and ophthalmology to see what eventually happens with privatisation, charges are implemented. All the evidence shows that is the trajectory of privatisation. As a socialist association we should be fighting to prevent this. A further argument is that Andy Burnham has said that the NHS would be the preferred provider, and this means in some instances the NHS would not be preferred. I sat in a room twice in one day with AB last week where he said categorically under a Labour government the NHS would always be used first and foremost. The private sector would only be used in addition to the NHS where demand could not be met and waiting lists were rising

The role of the Socialist Health Association

This to me is quite simple. If we are an association that ‘promotes socialist principles’ for a ‘fully free and comprehensive health service’ then that is what we should be doing. We should not be an organisation that opens up to debating privatisation with neo-liberals or others. We should not be entertaining ‘evidence’ that says people do not mind who provides their health service. That is not our role. There are plenty of other organisations that will do that, and indeed members have shown evidence to the contrary. Our role is to ‘promote the principles of socialism’. Our constitution says that.

The role of paid officials and board members

I am still a little unsure about how the Socialist Health Association works in relation to its paid up members. So for instance how was the new chair ‘elected’? I don’t remember being told there was going to be an election. Even if there was only one nomination, I don’t recall having been involved in any of that process. That is what normally happens in a democratic organisation. That point aside, however it would seem to me that the role of anyone in the SHA is to promote the principles of the constitution. I’ve made reference to some of these above, but in none of them can I see anything that suggests we should be supporting privatisation.

These are my views. I would welcome those of other members