Honest criticism and constructive feedback can strengthen campaigning and are to be welcomed. It is unhelpful, however, when negative and unsubstantiated allegations are made about the organisation, its members and executive. This not only causes confusion among activists but serves also to weaken collective efforts to defend and reinstate the NHS as a public service. KONP expects attacks from government and others with an interest in undermining the NHS, appreciating that these are an indication that our campaigning is having an effect. Attacks by those claiming themselves to be campaigning to save the NHS do need some response and are addressed here.
1. False allegation that KONP does not genuinely campaign against privatisation or for a public NHS, but is in fact a fake grassroots ‘astroturf’ organisation that attracts in good people, wastes their time and demotivates them.
KONP was set up in 2005 (during a Labour government) by a small, unfunded, and very dedicated group of campaigners to oppose NHS privatisation. Since then, we have grown and now have around 70 local groups throughout England. We have a small but extremely energetic staff team; the rest of us are unpaid and give our time to save the NHS, working both locally and nationally.
Wendell Potter, a whistle blower from the health insurance industry spoke at our AGM in 2011 about ‘astroturf’ organisations in the US (covered in his excellent book about American health care, ‘Deadly Spin’). He gave the example of groups secretly set up and funded by tobacco companies to lobby for ‘smokers’ rights’. To call KONP ‘astroturf’ is therefore to say that it is funded by private health care interests in order to undermine campaigning for a public NHS. Wendell was recently in contact with the KONP executive and says that he has seen no evidence to suggest that KONP is an astroturf group, wishing us well in our campaigning.
A visit to our website will demonstrate the wide range of issues that we have tackled, from NHS underfunding, to outsourcing and privatisation of clinical services, PFI, government restructuring, social care, trade deals, patient data, corporate involvement in management of the NHS through new Integrated Care Boards and issues for staff and patients. We have organised countless rallies, petitions and demonstrations attracting a wide range of support, most recently through the SOS NHS coalition.
2. False allegation that KONP is not a ‘clean’ (i.e. non corrupted) organisation, unlike Your NHS Needs You, We Own It and EveryDoctor.
KONP agrees that We Own It (WOI) is an excellent organisation doing sterling work on opposing privatisation of public services. This is why KONP works very closely with WOI, with joint events such as the one in Parliament Square on the 25th of February 2023 to highlight deaths linked with NHS outsourcing. A large number of those attending were KONP activists as WOI does not have a group structure. Relations between KONP and WOI are excellent including frequent contact for discussions around joint NHS campaigning. EveryDoctor is also a welcome supporter of KONP’s initiatives. Clearly neither of these organisations regard KONP as ‘astroturf’.
‘Your NHS Needs You’ (YNNY) was the name given to the campaign by NHS England at the beginning of the Covid pandemic to recruit community volunteers. It is also the name of the health campaign within the Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM25). YNNY has a website but does not appear to have an active group structure; it has focused on petition signing and use of social media. KONP is happy to work with individual members of YNNY who share our objectives. YNNY did not lend its support to the over 50 strong SOS NHS coalition when invited by KONP.
3. False allegation that KONP is undemocratic and rigs its internal elections to the executive committee.
KONP is a democratic organisation with 70 groups eligible to send a delegate to the bimonthly Steering Group (SG) where policy is decided. The Executive Committee (EC) is tasked with putting that policy into practice. Elections to the EC are held every two years with votes being cast by groups. The election is carried out to a specific timetable and overseen by a three-person election committee nominated and approved by the SG. The Steering Group has never raised concern that internal elections have been rigged.
4. False allegation that the KONP leadership is willing to ‘do the dirty’ and the membership is docile.
This is quite clearly an unwarranted and unsupported attack on the members of the KONP EC as well as being insulting to the many members of KONP, who have shown themselves to be far from docile on many occasions!
5. False allegation that KONP does not recognise US corporations are profiting from the NHS and extending their influence.
KONP exists to oppose privatisation. We have published extensively on how ‘reforms’ over many years have led to the marketisation of health care, and increasing involvement by the private sector, including transnational corporations. KONP has highlighted that the Health and Care Act has opened up even more opportunities for private health care companies, including US corporations, many of which are listed in the Health System Support Framework. However, KONP believes that to suggest the NHS is currently controlled by US health corporations in such statements as: ‘We have almost complete transition to a managed care system…. the NHS has now become a national insurance scheme……Integrated Care Boards are now run by private corporations’ – is inaccurate. KONP is pledged to keep fighting to prevent this from becoming a reality.
6. False allegation that KONP is funded by trade unions and therefore does not criticise them.
Around 90% of our income comes from members’ subscriptions and donations from individuals, with the other 10% from trade union bodies. KONP works closely with trade unions through its Trade Union facing organisation: ‘Health Campaigns Together’. Ultimately, we believe the only way to save the NHS is by building a massive campaign with overwhelming popular support for the NHS and care system we want and need. This means working with a wide range of trades unions, party branches, campaign groups and individuals. KONP seeks to work with union members and ensure that unions take a firm stand against NHS privatisation and defend the NHS as a public service.
KONP recognises that the primary focus for unions is fighting for members pay and conditions. KONP seeks to have a robust dialogue with union leaders as well as rank and file members. Coalition building is challenging and requires patient hard work – KONP considers that just shouting from the sidelines it not good enough. Different organisations have different priorities and varying tactical approaches, so we can never accommodate all of these. Through supporting others’ priorities, e.g. union demands for better pay, we create opportunities to speak about our wider agenda for the NHS. By our involvement in a range of different actions we aim to promote our full programme of demands, and seek to influence others we work alongside.
7. False allegation that KONP does not challenge the Labour party as it does not want to be confrontational.
KONP was set up in response to Labour policies that were driving privatisation and marketisation of care. KONP is a non-party political organisation with clear views about what we expect from opposition parties, and is critical of the current Labour approach to the NHS. KONP has always been critical of many aspects of Labour Party policy. For anyone who is interested in finding out more, our website is adequate testimony to this fact. KONP insists that the Labour party must do better and support a properly funded public health and social care system out of progressive taxation, as well as addressing the social determinants of health through promotion of social justice. KONP recognises that the fate of the NHS will lie in the hands of the Labour Party should it be elected to power and therefore seeks to influence Labour Party plans for both health and social care. We believe this is best done through dialogue and working closely with individual members rather than simply attacking the Labour Party for its shortcomings.
8. False allegation that the unions entered into a social partnership agreement (with Patricia Hewitt) which effectively means they have agreed not to oppose privatisation.
This is a misreading and misrepresentation of the agreement between the Department of Health, NHS Employers and NHS Trade Unions which actually says nothing about privatisation and explicitly recognises that Trade Unions have a responsibility to represent and act in the interests of their members.
9. Mistaken perspective that KONP and the SOS NHS coalition should not argue for increased funding for the NHS since more money would simply go into the pockets of private companies and their shareholders and would not improve patient services.
This perverse viewpoint stems from the erroneous conclusion that NHS services are already predominantly run and managed by private companies. Were the above proposition true, the government would have no problem in spending more on healthcare since it would simply be funnelling cash to its wealthy supporters. KONP strongly disagrees that the NHS does not need more money and calls for the investment that is needed to recruit and retain additional staff, provide new equipment, and carry out essential maintenance and building programmes. David Rowland has shown that at present around 22% of health spending currently finds its way to private companies. A decent pay rise for staff is an essential part of defending the NHS. Furthermore, the NHS has never in its history had a golden age when it was funded sufficiently to provide a full range of quality services. The argument that the NHS does not need more money plays into the hands of Tory politicians and right wing commentators who often claim that if only the NHS reduced waste and became more efficient it would be able to live within its current budget. To object to additional funding is a foolish argument at the present time when the NHS is so clearly in crisis and patients and staff are suffering so much as a consequence.
10. False allegation that KONP favours a European social insurance model for funding of healthcare.
KONP campaigns (and has always campaigned) for a publicly provided NHS funded out of progressive taxation. It explicitly rejects a European social insurance model as being more bureaucratic, expensive and transferring costs to individual patients and their families. KONP does believe that right wing think tanks and many politicians in the UK who want to privatise the NHS favour a European Social Insurance model.
As we have shown, the above allegations made against KONP are baseless and serve only to cause division among those who genuinely wish to fight for the renationalisation of health and care services. KONP won’t accept that the NHS has been destroyed and healthcare taken over by corporate interests as we don’t agree with this defeatist analysis. While fully acknowledging the extent of corporate involvement in the NHS and the huge dangers this poses, we are not yet ready to give up on our campaigns. The NHS is still predominantly a public service and we are campaigning to get rid of all outsourcing and make it fully public once again. We hope you will want to join us in this!
KONP Executive Committee