Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is a simple but powerful concept that unites people across the world: that everybody should get the health services they need without suffering financial hardship. Exactly two years ago, following a unanimous vote at the United Nations, all governments committed themselves to achieving UHC. Now, on the anniversary of this historic resolution, over 500 organisations from 100 countries are celebrating Universal Health Coverage Day and are campaigning to accelerate progress towards this goal. These organisations include the World Bank, WHO all the major NGOs and many development agencies of national governments. David Cameron once said he was ‘proud of the NHS’ – so what has his government done to support universal health coverage around the world?
In 2009, under a Labour Government, the United Kingdom was the leading G8 country promoting UHC. This was demonstrated at the United Nations General Assembly, where Gordon Brown co-hosted a meeting with the World Bank during which 6 low income countries announced that they would extend the provision of free publicly financed health care. These countries included Liberia and Sierra Leone who are currently at the epicenter of the current ebola crisis. Britain also announced that it would set up a special centre, to be called ‘The Centre for Progressive Health Care Financing’ to help countries develop financing strategies to reach UHC, largely using their own resources.
Now under the coalition Britain has dropped the ball on UHC and everyone is asking why the country famous for celebrating its NHS at the Olympics isn’t celebrating UHC worldwide.
One of the Coalition Government’s first acts was to stop our plans for the UHC centre from getting off the ground. They’ve slashed support for health care budgets in developing countries by 30%, including in Sierra Leone and Liberia prior to Ebola breaking out. In the talks to determine the Sustainable Development Goals that will replace the MDGs, the UK Government has actively blocked calls for a Universal Health Coverage goal.
Perhaps the main reason is that the Tories don’t believe in UHC themselves. You’ll remember that Jeremy Hunt didn’t want us to showcase our wonderful NHS during the opening of the Olympics and we know there are many in the Tory party plotting its downfall. How hypocritical would it look for the Tories to champion UHC internationally whilst overseeing the wanton vandalism and underfinancing of the NHS at home.
The Labour Party, however, is totally committed to saving the NHS and UHC in Britain and helping other countries make sure their populations get the health services they need. Our shadow secretary of state, Mary Creagh MP has pledged that Labour will “demand that universal healthcare is at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals settlement.”
Each country’s route to UHC will be different depending on their circumstances but one thing is absolutely clear, if you want to reach UHC, public financing is crucial. Here Britain and the Labour Party has a great story to tell and, unlike the Tories, we’ll be proud to share our experiences with the rest of the world.