The NHS is experiencing the worst crisis in its 73 year history. The latest threat comes from the fact that Tory Baroness Dido Harding has thrown her hat in the ring to become the next chief executive of the NHS.
Harding comes from the big business establishment, having been a boss at numerous large companies, including TalkTalk and Sainsburys. Her latest CV entry is none other than running the government’s calamitous Test and Trace system.
Despite Test and Trace costing the taxpayer a whopping £37bn, the programme is thought to have had a minimal impact on the transmission of the virus. Even the former head of the Treasury declared it the “most wasteful and inept public spending programme of all time”. We’ll never know how many lives could have been saved with a more effective system.
Details of the operations behind the Test and Trace project only make Dido Harding’s promotion attempt all the more surreal.
For starters, there was the scandal behind appointing a baroness – who lacked any healthcare qualifications – to manage a pivotal project at the height of Britain’s biggest public health emergency in over a century.
What Harding lacked in healthcare experience, however, was made up for by her close connections with the upper echelons of the Tory Party. Not only is Harding married to Tory MP John Penrose, but she was made a baroness by her university pal David Cameron.
Harding also happens to be close friends with health secretary Matt Hancock, through their shared love of horse racing. Indeed, the infamous Jockey Club, of which Harding is a board member, has made donations totaling £350,000 to none other than Hancock.
Under Harding’s direction, the Test and Trace programme was a disaster. Costs spiralled due to the hiring of hundreds of ‘management consultants’ – including many from her former employer McKinsey.
Such consultants charged eye-watering daily fees of £1,100 on average, with some even paid up to £6,624 for a day’s work. According to Harding, however, such fees were “very competitive”. Yet despite having all these ‘experts’ on the payroll, the programme failed to trace anything close to sufficient numbers of people to make an impact.
On top of this, private sector outsourcers such as Serco were handed hundreds of millions of pounds of public money, only to deliver a failed service.
None of this bodes well should Harding be awarded the NHS top job. Rather than kicking out the profiteers from our public healthcare system, the doors would likely be thrown open even wider for them to continue to profit at the expense of our health.
Promoting Harding would be the next logical step for the Tories, who over the past decade have introduced privatisation into the NHS by the backdoor.
Given that Harding’s husband is closely involved with the 1828 think tank, which campaigns for the NHS to be moved to a ‘social insurance’ model, Harding would be an obvious choice for those in the establishment who want to further open up the NHS to the market.
Fight for socialism
Should Harding be rewarded with the top job, it will be one more insult to NHS workers, who have been treated with nothing but contempt by the Tories.
After a strenuous year of fighting against a deadly virus; dealing with PPE shortages and an incompetent government; and only being offered an insulting pay rise of 1%, NHS workers will find themselves on the frontline against further privatisations.
The very fact that Harding – with all her top Tory connections – has put herself forward, is a warning sign to NHS workers to prepare for battle.
With the left now in the process of taking control of Unison, Britain’s largest union, which represents nurses and other NHS staff, healthcare workers seeking to challenge management and the Tories should receive greater support from their union.
Ultimately however, the defence of the NHS is a task for the whole labour movement. Better pay for health workers, better service for patients, and quicker waiting times are not a utopia. But they can only be realised through the struggle for socialism.