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JT of Class Consciousness Project

Feb 15, 2024

King Charles III was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had his treatment begin within a week (Photo: Getty/BBC)

The news that King Charles III had been diagnosed with prostate cancer was met with a combination of sympathy and indifference by his subjects. Whilst on a human level most people who didn’t have a swinging brick for a heart would wish the King a full recovery, what would have raised the eyebrows of many people in Britain would not have been the fact that a 75 year old man had been diagnosed with cancer, but the swiftness with which King Charles was given treatment for the disease. 

2023 saw the worst waiting times for NHS cancer treatment on record, with just under a third of patients not commencing treatment within 62 days of a diagnosis. The increasing waiting times are part of a trend that goes back over a decade and stands in stark contrast to the treatment dispensed to the monarch, who was diagnosed with and commenced treatment for his prostate cancer within a single week. Buckingham Palace did not reveal whether the King was given private or NHS care, but actually the point is moot – ‘private’ healthcare is often provided by the  NHS but the private patient has bought the opportunity to skip the queue and get their treatment sooner than if they had gone through the NHS directly. 

Given that the prompt treatment of cancer potentially leads to life saving outcomes, the fact that a third of patients see no treatment for two months begs the question: How many people with cancer have died because of these delays to treatment? Whilst this is a difficult number to calculate, the British Medical Journal reported that, according to research it carried out on a sample of patients over the period 2010-2020, one month’s delay in treatment increases the risk of dying from cancer by 10%. This will make chilling reading to anybody with cancer and their families and the potentially life-saving swiftness with with King Charles III received his treatment will raise serious questions about the NHS, the way it is run and, with 2024 being an election year, whether any party can do anything to change it. 

It is difficult to accurately pinpoint an exact date when the decline in the NHS began, because it has been operating on the basis of rationed care for decades. Departments within the NHS have operated despite shortages of staff and cash for so long they have become essentially institutionalised and patients have grown wearily resigned to receiving appalling standards of service at the GP level, which for many is the entry level into broader NHS care, all the way through to poor treatment in hospitals and community care facilities. 

For the last thirty years, the Government’s policy, regardless of the bourgeois party in charge, has been to essentially privatise the NHS and the care that it provides. The process began under the Conservative Government in 1993, of which the Chancellor at the time was europhile Ken Clarke, but was accelerated exponentially by the Blair Government, who saw Private Finance Initiatives as the magical ‘third way’ – neither solely public or private, but the marriage of private capital and Government underwriting to secure the building of hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities in super-quick time. Private companies would build the facilities, with the NHS leasing them back on 25 to 35 year contracts with the private company responsible for their maintenance.

It was a plan with apparently with no drawbacks, but was revealed to be an exercise in the industrial-scale funnelling of public money into the coffers of privateers on a scale rarely seen before or since, with the possible exception of the Government’s response to Covid. 

A Daily Telegraph investigation in 2010 on the debacle of PFI revealed that

  • A hospital was charged £52,000 for a job which should have cost £750. The demolition of a smoker’s shelter (as the NHS banned smoking on all its property) resulted in a PFI contractor charging £2,600 for “extra cleaning”, presumably for the increased amount of cigarette butts the loss of the shelter created.

  • A hospital in Bromley, Kent costing a total of £1.2bn, ten times its actual value. 

  • A PFI-built school, standing empty at the time of the report, will cost the taxpayer £370,000 a year until 2027.

NHS trusts are creaking under enormous PFI debt repayments, which cancels out almost every proclaimed boost to funding that each Government hands it. PFI became a conduit to channel money from the public to the private sector via the NHS, and the inevitable drain that these schemes have had on patient care can be seen now and will be seen decades into the future. No major party has any answers to the problem, other than to do more of the same – in January 2022, the loathsome Wesley Streeting MP said that he would not “shirk” from using private providers to reduce waiting lists and that it proved “effective” the last time Labour saw power. 

The fact is that the mess that the NHS is in is a direct result of the use of private sector finance to ‘improve’ healthcare – under Labour, the NHS became a brand name behind which private services were provided whilst crippled with decades of index-linked debt which it struggled to pay, particularly as inflation rose and interest rates have increased with it. The Conservatives offer no solutions, either – they are motivated by the same desire to bring privateers into the fold of the NHS as the Labour Party is. 

The NHS doesn’t only lack sufficient funds: It also lacks sufficient staffing, it lacks local democratic accountability and departments within the same hospital run in silos, separated and detached from those around them, because of the hugely bureaucratic methods of its management. While it may come as little comfort to people whose cancer treatment started weeks later that it should have done, health provision under a planned socialist economy would eradicate the many and varied problems which beset the NHS and return the provision of truly world-class healthcare, free at the point of use, to the people of this country. 

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