Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) was established in 2005 and since then, has placed the utmost importance on the fight to save and restore the NHS, to reinstate it as a national service, wholly publicly owned, funded, provided, managed and accountable – and remaining free to all at the point of use.
The focus of our initial work in the mid 2000s was to oppose New Labour’s shift towards NHS privatisation. First, they put into action the hospital PFI build schemes planned by John Major’s Government. Then they imposed the disruptive, ineffective, and heavily subsidised independent sector treatment centres (ISTC) on the NHS, ostensibly to address waiting lists (echoing today). Three current large private health care providers can trace their initial growth, back to the ownership of ISTCs in the early 2000s. We opposed them every step of the way.
Since 2010, the NHS has suffered a double onslaught of NHS defunding under Conservative Party austerity and increasing privatisation. Throughout this period KONP has repeatedly made the call to end privatisation and outsourcing of NHS services in all its forms.
KONP has always worked tirelessly to alert the public to the damage being done to the NHS. A quick scan through our website, social media, information, materials, and resources clearly demonstrates this.
We are a democratic, non-party-aligned organisation which has around 60 local groups across the country. We have a national team of hard-working staff, accountable to our leadership. KONP works with a wide range of other organisations who share these goals to defend, restore and strengthen the NHS. We welcome comradely debate and discussion from within and without the organisation. This helps us campaign more effectively.
Our campaigning and achievements
KONP works in a multitude of different ways to warn the public about damage being done to the NHS and to influence change.
- Our trade union-facing Health Campaigns Together has helped build positive relationships with Health unions and health campaigns; HCT and KONP have led successful events with our allies, including huge national demonstrations in both 2017 and 2018 and in 2021 held a huge online NHS anti-privatisation conference with backing from all the health unions.
- Together we lead the SOS NHS alliance of 55 organisations including the three biggest Health unions and 15 other national unions and dozens of campaigns including We Own It, People’s Assembly, Socialist Health Association, NHS Workers Say No, Just Treatment and many others (find out more at SOS NHS). There is no doubt that these responses lead the NHS campaigning movement in England as evidenced in national days of action and a recent 10,000-strong demonstration in March 2023.
- Our local groups organise street campaigns countrywide; hold meetings, rallies and local demonstrations; and scrutinise and challenge local NHS and local authority boards. (See for example our recent work here and here)
- Our social media platforms, (100,000+ followers), publications and newsletters (reaching tens of thousands) all help in spreading our messages far and wide.
- Our mainstream media interviews and contributions reach 100s of 1000s online, live on television and radio, and in print media.
- Since 2012, KONP can also take credit for organising and/or supporting successful campaigns saving or delaying closures of least 10 hospitals, including Charing Cross & Ealing Hospitals, Shropshire, Huddersfield, Liverpool, Lewisham and more.
- We were members in the Campaign for the NHS Reinstatement Bill from foundation in 2014.
- We were involved in the judicial review against the Government’s attempt to bring accountable care organisations to England. Though this JR was lost, it made significant gains, and put the Government of that day on the backfoot, attempting to deny its strategy of NHS privatisation.
- Our People’s Covid Inquiry – ‘Learn Lessons – Save Lives’ – led by Michael Mansfield KC, was held in 2021 at a time when Boris Johnson was still refusing to commit to a public inquiry. It was and remains an important focal point for highlighting the lethal failures of Government (see our report – ‘Misconduct in Public Office’).
- Recently, the US company Centene has decided to pull out of its general practice business in England (Operose) and to sell the Circle hospital chain, citing pressure from anti-privatisation campaigners as one of the reasons. KONP was centrally involved in the well-publicised campaign and JR in February 2022.
- We have campaigned against the Health and Care Act up to its enactment in July 2022 and have been involved in monitoring to expose the consequent impact, led by our Integrated Care Systems work group.
The struggle to defend and promote a decent public NHS over the last fifteen years has been tough, at a time when neoliberalism has eaten away at the NHS like woodworm. Nonetheless, with mutual support, teamwork and actively seeking to work with allies, we have grown into an organisation whose campaigning is multi-faceted and based around different work streams and working groups.
We campaign on several important areas including:
- opposition to NHS privatisation and underfunding
- local ICSs (integrated care systems)
- Covid 19
- NHS staff and related industrial action
- trade deals
- mental health
- racism in healthcare and opposition to migrant charges for NHS care
- the campaign to end the social care disgrace
- restoration of NHS dentistry for all
- the abuse of health data
- the restoration of general practice and key services now removed from the NHS
Importantly, we make available detailed briefings and wider information on these issues, and campaigning guidance for campaigners and members of the public on our website and elsewhere.
Our work under sectarian attack
During our non-stop work for 18 years at local and national level, KONP and some of its members have occasionally come under sectarian attacks and false accusations, sadly sometimes individual and very personal, for which there is no basis in reality.
Most of these false allegations over the past seven years have come from one individual, Dr Bob Gill, a disaffected member of the organisation who left KONP in 2016. Until now, we have decided largely to ignore these baseless slurs in order not to give further attention to such unwarranted lies, nor divert resources from our work to save the NHS.
However, Dr Gill has recently been using the platform ‘Not the Andrew Marr Show’ to extend his attacks, which had been initially targeted at KONP, to include other organisations which are allied with us in NHS campaigning – the People’s Assembly and the Socialist Health Association, and also We Own it.
These attacks so grossly misrepresent our organisation (and the others targeted) that it no longer feels fair on our members and supporters to fail to counter these allegations. We can no longer sit back in silence when not only is our organisation under attack, but more importantly the work of hundreds of local campaigners up and down the country is devalued and dismissed as a waste of time.
Sectarianism serves to turn people against each other, dividing the movement at a critical time for the future of the NHS. We cannot allow it to have this negative impact. This is why we have decided to address the issue now.
A selection of the false accusations
1 The focus of our campaigning:
KONP is alleged to have failed to tell the public about the damage being done to the NHS through privatisation and to build resistance. Apparently, KONP has just focused on pressing for more funding. Not true, just take a look at some of our recent posts and campaigns below.
- The Future is Public! – health is a human right, and the fight for it is international
- Integrated Care Board Database: How much money is spent on private contracts?
- Private sector profits from illness
- Private cherry-picking of NHS services associated with patient harm
Whilst our title is a clue, more importantly, our practice is clearly opposed to both privatisation and damaging underfunding of the NHS (a dual tried and tested neoliberal strategy to undermine public services). Our record speaks for itself.
2 Relationship to Labour Party politics
KONP is alleged to fail to challenge the Labour Party both historically and under the present leadership. This is nonsense. Not only were we set up during the Blair Government, not once have we aligned ourselves to the Labour Party and instead have always made our position clear.
- In an implicit criticism of opposition party policies, KONP has set out what it is we expect from them.
- We have highlighted the inadequacy of Labour’s policy responses on our website (‘Opposition parties should oppose deals with the private sector’).
- Our co-chair has published on the subject of Labour and the NHS, challenging Keir Starmer’s prescription for the NHS as both vacuous and dangerous, and called on Labour to commit to long-term substantial investment, to promote primary care and public health, and to tackle the social determinants of health.
- His letters to the British Medical Journal have criticised Labour for its lack of effective opposition to the Health & Care Act and warned that Labour must not advocate for private companies to come to the aid of the NHS. He has taken Labour to task for failing to commit to restoring NHS funding to pre-austerity levels and making good the accumulated deficit; for not giving the huge number of vacancies in health and social care due consideration; for not supporting overworked and underpaid staff; and for failing to attack the government over its appalling management of the Covid pandemic. Wes Streeting was criticised for castigating GPs while having no clear plan to rebuild the NHS, and for accepting funds from a source with interests in a US healthcare corporation.
Our sister organisation, Health Campaigns Together recently ran the following, ‘Private sector can’t solve NHS waiting lists’, and KONP campaigners have argued against increased privatisation being a solution as proposed by some Labour Party representatives, in quotes in press, social media and interviews, and again this summer in a speech at a public meeting of Labour MPs in July.
It is simply untrue to state that KONP makes no criticism of Labour Party policy.
We do, however, attempt to work with opposition parties and MPs who share our core aims. To that end we have fostered relationships with members of the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, SNP, Greens, Sinn Fein, and others to project our messages as best we can into parliamentary politics and into the wider debate. We can only do this important work, which our supporters expect of us, by rigorously maintaining our commitment to being a non-party-aligned body.
KONP’s primary campaigning concern, however, is always with the effects of damaging health and social care policies put forward by those in government of whatever political party. It is our duty to hold those in power to account and to press for legislative change from those in a position to enact that change.
It should go without saying, however, that it is the current Conservative party that is responsible for the disastrous impact on many aspects of life in the UK since 2010.
While it is possible, even probable, that the Labour party will take power at the next election, they are not currently in power and not able to enact the changes we are already demanding of all politicians.
Nonetheless, given the likelihood of Labour being asked to form a government after the next election, it is self-evident and important that KONP should attempt to establish a dialogue with those in the Labour Party who will listen, and to robustly challenge policy from its leadership at the same time. It would be politically naïve not to do so. This is not the same as expressing support for the current Labour leadership (see above).
3 Relationship to the trade unions
With no supporting evidence whatever, KONP and HCT are accused of being subservient to the trade unions and avoiding criticism of TU policies because we are said to rely on them for funding.
Less than 10% of our funding has come from unions, and the majority of this has been to support specific one-off events with allied aims. Over 90% of our income comes from members’ fees and individuals’ donations – those same activists and supporters for whom so little respect is shown by these statements.
We do, however, seek to build relationships with the trade union movement as a whole, to work alongside them where our aims align and to share our messages with potentially millions of working people, over two million of whom work in the health and care sectors. Far from being subservient to the unions, we relate as an independent agent in a mutually respectful manner. This is important work our supporters also expect of us.
4 Allegation that KONP is an astroturf organisation
This allegation is the most dishonest and malicious of all the attacks, for it accuses KONP of being set up to support the interests of the private health industry, with secret backing from private sector sources, and falsely parading as pro-NHS campaigners whose opposition to privatisation is mere pretence. Dr Gill has repeatedly made this accusation without once providing any evidence. His claim is nothing less than slanderous. Real astroturf organisations, for example those ‘campaigns’ that deny the harms of smoking, or the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, have caused immense damage. They are an example of everything we oppose. To accuse KONP of being part of that swamp of conspiracy is a travesty.
The way ahead
The campaign road ahead stretches well beyond the result of the forthcoming General Election. The task we face is huge and we don’t claim to have all the answers.
We do know, however, that together with our allies we are stronger in the fight for the NHS. We will not be deterred from working with the few parliamentarians who will listen and attempting to increase our influence over them and others; nor will we be deterred from working alongside the trade union movement, perhaps the only body of organisations that really represents working class people. Neither will we be deterred from trying to form broad and far reaching networks of campaign groups to pool resources and extend our reach. We also stand by our claim that the NHS does need more funding, but alongside that, we will continue – as we have always done – to challenge the privatisation of our health service in all its forms.
We also urge everyone to join Keep Our NHS Public and help us in the huge tasks ahead.
Most importantly of all, we will hold this Government to account and work to get rid of it as best we can. But we will also challenge the next Government – of whatever party – to commit to rebuilding the NHS and reinstating it as a publicly provided, managed and accountable service, just as we did in 2005 when we were founded.
We will hold that Government to account if it falls down on this task. We remain ready to fight to save our NHS from all those who undermine it.