FOR those familiar with the corrosive downgrading of Stroud Hospital over the years, the news from Cheltenham will be worrying but no great shock.

Are we to lose one of the only two surviving Accident and Emergency units in the county?

The official word is no but many believe that little word contains hidden caveats.

There is a possibility that the department will be downgraded to an ‘urgent care centre’ (the current craze among health providers), which would lack the specialised equipment of a true A&E unit, and be staffed by GPs, as and when available, rather than true emergency doctors and personnel.

So we’d still have the A&E unit, except it wouldn’t be an A&E unit anymore.

Whatever happens in Cheltenham, downgrading and closures continue apace across the country.

As more and more of what remains of the NHS ends up in the private sector – nearly all of its internal services are now run by private companies – costs multiply, and despite the best efforts of beleaguered health professionals, standards cannot be maintained.

The government’s clear intention is that the NHS should be completely privatised.

Anyone unable to pay exorbitant health insurance fees should be very worried.

The NHS must be taken completely back into public control and properly financed, otherwise it will die.

Naturally there will be people asking whether we can afford this, and the short answer is yes.

The slightly longer answer is that we have to unlearn the economic lessons drummed into us during forty years of unrestrained monetarism.

The all powerful market economy has vastly increased the wealth gap and at the same time we’ve had decades of spending cuts to ‘balance the books’.

In fact government can control ‘the books’, and is able to generate money as and when needed.

It’s a reality the Tories are desperate to keep hidden.

If the Atlee government could create the Welfare State in an impoverished post-war Britain, we can certainly save it now.

What’s more, we have to.

Paul Halas