Corbyn's message on the NHS was derailed by traingate

A vital discussion on the future of healthcare was drowned out by the media furore over 'traingate'. Only Richard Branson stands to benefit such a distraction.

Tess Finch-Lees
31 August 2016
 Jane Barlow / PA Wire/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.

Jeremy Corbyn arrives at Glasgow station. Photo: Jane Barlow / PA Wire/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.The corporate heist of the NHS by private health providers, made possible by the Health and Social Care Act 2012, is a national scandal. Not just because it involves dismantling services, selling off public assets and demoralising frontline staff, but because it has largely gone unreported in the media. Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to renationalise the NHS yesterday served as a much needed lifeline to those fighting A&E closures and NHS cuts.

I went online to hear Corbyn’s press conference. The Mirror’s website beckoned readers to “view” Corbyn “unveil” his NHS plans, but clicking on the link led me to old footage featuring Owen Smith. Then I clicked on Sky’s link to Corbyn’s speech but instead of showing his renationalisation pledges, it showcased their reporter badgering Corbyn to respond to tax exile Richard Branson’s release of dodgy CCTV footage (for which he’s being investigated for breach of data protection laws), which purpoted to show him having lied about the lack of availability on Virgin trains. The ensuing media storm, which dubbed the whole scandalous affair 'traingate', backfired when Virgin passengers waded in to support Corbyn’s version of events, but it didn’t stop the media sabotaging his message. Some journalists missed the memo that it was an NHS news conference and made the story Corbyn’s refusal to be diverted from that.

As a last resort, I clicked on the BBC link to Corbyn’s press conference. Despite it being the British Broadcasting Corporation, there was no footage of Corbyn speaking. The leader of the opposition, voiceless and silenced on one of the public’s biggest concerns. The systematic dismantling of the NHS. Apart from a few random quotes, the segment was mostly given over to facile “analysis” by the BBC’s health correspondent.

There was no mention of the Health and Social Care Act, which removes the responsibility of health care provision from the government

There was no mention of the Health and Social Care Act, which removes the responsibility of health care provision from the government. Section 75 compels NHS trusts to engage in tendering for contracts, £16bn of which have been awarded to private contractors since 2013. Nothing about the fact that Corbyn warned in 2000 that PFI would saddle the NHS with debt (now £222bn). Yet another thing, along with Iraq, Austerity and deregulation that Corbyn got right and New Labour got wrong.

Perhaps the greatest omission by all the media’s “analysis” is that Corbyn’s NHS renationalisation announcement had been derailed (forgive the pun) by one of the biggest beneficiaries of NHS privatisation. Sir Richard Branson. At the same time as Corbyn’s NHS pledges were being hijacked by traingate, it emerged that Branson’s Virgin Care had beaten off a joint local NHS bid to win a contract, worth £17.6m a year to co-ordinate adult community health services in Guildford. Despite operating as a tax haven and, according to Tax expert, Richard Murphy, Virgin Care is unlikely to pay tax in the UK in the foreseeable future, the company has been awarded contracts worth millions to provide NHS services across England. All hidden behind the NHS logo.

Last week Virgin Care lost its contract to run Croydon’s Urgent Care Centre in the wake of criticism by the CQC, which found patients were being streamed by untrained reception staff which compromised safety. 30-year-old Madhumita Mandal died of multiple organ failure and sepsis caused by a ruptured ovarian cyst after a receptionist at the urgent care centre failed to refer her to a medic. The problem is, private companies are not bound by the same accountability as public services and they’re driven by profit, not patient care.

Traingate’s smokescreen served to divert attention away from the NHS

Traingate’s smokescreen served to divert attention away from the NHS, which is Owen Smith’s Achilles heel. Having been a corporate lobbyist for pharma giant Pfizer, his claims of being a “socialist to the core” are unconvincing.  Pfizer was recently accused of breaching UK law by increasing the cost of an epilepsy drug by 2,600 percent resulting in the NHS bill for the drug rising from around £2 annually to more than 40 million in 2014. Pharma giants, like corporate lobbyists, are not known for their socialist credentials.

Smith previously extolled the virtues of PFI and private sector “choice” in the NHS. He says he has since seen the light of socialism and assures us he is now firmly anti-privatisation. I’m reminded of the saying, “Someone who stands for nothing is likely to fall for anything”.

In a bid to scupper Corbyn’s NHS announcement, Heidi Alexander also launched an ill-advised diversionary attack obligingly published in The Guardian last week. Criticising Corbyn for disobeying her instructions not to join junior doctors on the picket line raised questions about her own judgement, as then labour MP responsible for health. Why had she failed to support striking doctors and Caroline Lucas’ NHS reinstatement Bill, designed to reverse the blight of privatisation? After Brexit, the integrity of journalism, as well as politicians, is under scrutiny. Subverting or distorting Corbyn’s message on a subject so important to ordinary people as the NHS does little to regain public trust.

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