Latest updates: Conservative government under pressure over revelations Zahawi paid penalty to settle tax dispute while in cabinet
In an article for the Guardian, Gordon Brown, the former Labour PM, says that the Conservatives are exploring introducing charging into the NHS, in a move that would formalise “two-tier healthcare”. Referring to an article the Sajid Javid, the former health secretary, published in the Times on Saturday, Brown says:
Sajid Javid, a former chancellor and health secretary, has written approvingly of the £20 fee that some European countries charge for visits to the GP. He labels Ireland’s €75 (£66) bill for attending an A&E without a GP’s referral as merely “nominal”, as if it’s so modest that a higher charge would be more appropriate. And he calls for a national debate on the contribution private financing can make to healthcare.
But the direction in which the Conservatives are travelling is already clear. The sick would pay for being sick and charging would force, as has happened with GP and hospital fees in France, the better-off sections of the population to take out private insurance – inevitably creating, in its wake, a two-tier healthcare system.
Javid’s intervention in favour of what he calls “nothing short of a 1948-style moment” is no accident. The prime minister, Rishi Sunak, who has used private healthcare, once came up with a proposal for new charges: £10 for patients who miss GP and hospital appointments. And so once again, as they did in opposition at the turn of this century, with Alternative Prescriptions, Conservatives are testing the water for a different kind of NHS.
As a former chancellor, I have said for some time that the NHS refinancing that Labour achieved in 2002 – a 6.3% real terms annual rise between 2000 and 2010 – had to be revisited every decade. This hasn’t happened under the Conservatives, and the consequences are visible to all of us. But the pressures the NHS faces make the case for comprehensive funding through national insurance even stronger; and show why this is to be preferred to either European-style social insurance, or private insurance.
I believe that [the Conservatives] have an agenda in terms of privatising the NHS. Sajid Javid’s comments over the weekend weren’t done whoopsie daisy, they were very deliberate. They were flagged to see how it flew. I am very, very concerned now that they have another agenda.
I was around when Jeremy Hunt was the health secretary, and he wanted the NHS in the American trade deal part. And what we’re seeing now is such an act of self harm, I cannot understand why the prime minister does not come to the table … and gets this deal done.
For when a minister comes under fire, the prime minister’s support is essential. If it is heartfelt, the latter may find a way of saying a few words for a camera or the airwaves. The view of the minister’s colleagues will also be important. If they queue up to defend him, they will either believe his account of events, like him, or have an interest in backing him – not least because they may be next.
You will have your own take, but James Cleverly, the luckless minister on media duty yesterday, didn’t say that he had confidence in Zahawi as party chairman, but that his colleagues’ futures are a matter for the prime minister. That wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence. Meanwhile, Iain Duncan Smith, who was also in the TV studios, urged Zahawi to “get it all out now, whatever you have to do, and clear it up”.