THE NHS is facing its greatest crisis yet. Everyone is agreed on that. Public confidence in, and satisfaction with, the service has never been weaker. Waiting times and waiting lists have never been longer, vacancies for staff never higher and morale never lower.

Where there is no unanimity, however, is on how the crisis emerged and how best to solve it.

It has been long in the making, due to a mixture of chronic and acute conditions; the gruelling impact of the pandemic and its overhang; the worst flu outbreak in seven years; inflationary pressures on NHS budgets and staff alike; Brexit and the loss of tens of thousands of employees who came here as EU citizens; and an ageing population and the pronounced failure of the conjoined elderly care system.

READ MORE: Brexit, austerity, Covid: Why is Scotland's NHS gripped by crisis?

All these factors played their part and yet nothing has been more devastating than the impact of discredited Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts. The Morning Star this week pointed out that more than 900 PFI contracts were signed by the NHS by 2011, worth £56 billion. Yet taxpayers are on the hook to the private owners of these hospitals for £229bn. Four times as much!

Dr Allyson Pollock, Britain’s leading authority on NHS privatisation, describes PFI as “a robbery of outrageous proportions”. She calculates these contracts swallow up nearly 20% of the NHS’s entire budget. So while there is agreement that change is necessary, that does not extend to the nature of those changes. Former Tory health minister Savid Javid, for example, writing in The Times last week, called for charges to be introduced for GP appointments and A&E visits because the NHS “cannot survive much longer”.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Keir Starmer sees “the private sector helping to address the crisis in the NHS”. Such plans completely betray the principles the NHS was built upon in 1948.

My late mother was a senior nursing officer at Law Hospital in Carluke and latterly Wishaw General (below). Law was for 50 years one of Central Scotland’s great heavy-lifting facilities, a true “Clydesdale” breed if you like.

The National: Wishaw General Hospital

My mother began her training as a young nurse before I was born and learned much of value about life and the new NHS. She instilled its values in me and my sister Carol. Some of those lessons even found their way into our next-door neighbour Deborah Orr’s award-winning book Motherwell: A Girlhood.

Like my dad, mum was old enough to remember what “public healthcare” amounted to in Lanarkshire in the 1930s and 40s. Working-class families such as ours greatly feared the economic consequences of an illness and therefore saw the new NHS as “a godsend”.

Its compassionate, egalitarian (some might say socialist) values were not found elsewhere in the society we inhabited.

The principles NHS pioneers laid into its foundations were ones of compassion, equity and universality – a public service free at the point of need, paid for out of general taxation available first to those in most need.

The new NHS brought to an end to the practice Javid advocates today of paying the doctor before he would treat you. It didn’t mean it was free, however. It had to be paid for of course and meant contributions from all of us through our taxes.

Unfortunately, it did not end the practice where doctors remained private businessmen rather than employees and equal partners in “Team NHS”. That illness never was cured. Today the NHS has 26,000 consultants, of which 19,000 are also engaged in outside, private practice.

The claim that “the NHS is safe in our hands” proffered by the Tories, Labour and the SNP is also hollow not least because none of them would establish it today – and each has privatised it.

READ MORE: Clear majority blames Westminster for crisis in Scottish NHS, poll finds

The Scottish Socialist Party have opposed the privatisation of the NHS for 25 years. Not only are we disgusted by “the greatest robbery in the history of the NHS”, we insist that:

  • 1) All PFI contracts are immediately rescinded and the hospitals returned to the NHS to be owned, run and delivered for the public good, not privately owned and therefore run for profit. Commercial contracts are renegotiated every day, so there is nothing unusual in legislating to bring back in-house all contracts selling NHS hospitals to private consortiums.
  • 2) All doctors, dentists, opticians and community pharmacists should become salaried employees of the NHS, not private practitioners, as the NHS founders envisaged.
  • 3) All NHS employees should be paid a premium wage commensurate with the value we as a society place upon their service and to attract the best people, keep them and help fill the enormous number of vacancies.
  • 4) A national care service should be established on the same lines as the NHS, free at the point of need, universally available and paid for out of general taxation, with care provided to the highest standard to every resident at all times.

Colin Fox is a national co-spokesperson of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP)