“In the Budget, the government should not only give a boost to the wages of NHS key workers, but also reject the privatisation of the NHS & an end to grotesque practices of dishing out NHS contracts to Tory cronies.”Jon Trickett MP
Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives. This has been the government’s mantra throughout this pandemic. And rightly so.
But, in doing so, we have to question why the UK has one the highest number of covid-19 related deaths per 100,000 of population.
In my view, the founding principles of the NHS, introduced by a bold and progressive Labour government, are as relevant today as they were then.
Yet such a vision is far from the reality under this Tory administration.
One could easily be mistaken, as I am sure the Tories will claim, that they are the Party that protected the NHS during this pandemic.
But this is far from the truth.
The reality is that the Tories’ distrust of the NHS has done nothing more than weaken the country’s resilience against covid-19.
The government’s neglect and broken promises to address the crisis in social care and their cuts to public health budgets, this has increased society’s pain. Particularly so amongst the working class communities and the most vulnerable.
The Tories are no friends of a publicly owned NHS – they never have been and never will be.
Since the days of Thatcher, they have been running down our NHS – acting as an obstacle, not a facilitator in the country’s fight against the burden of ill health – through botched NHS reorganisations fragmenting the national service, back-door privatisation and reversing Labour’s investment in the NHS.
The Tory stewardship of the NHS has been devastating.
The facts speak for themselves.
Since 2010 there has been an 18% decrease in the number of hospital beds with available bed occupancy falling from 144,455 to 118,510.
Under Labour over 230 new NHS walk-in centres were established. Under the Tories over 100 of these have been closed or downgraded.
In my own region, Yorkshire and the Humber, we have seen a decrease in GP surgeries from 863 in 2010 to 668 in 2020.
Furthermore, when Labour left office around 95% of patients spent less than 4 hours in A&E by 2019 this had fallen to 75%.
And with waiting lists for operations and treatments now taking years to get back down to pre-pandemic levels, let us not forget that under the Tories NHS waiting lists grew to their highest levels in a decade.
Investing in NHS staff has fallen too – the key workers that the government is quick to praise – have had a raw deal under the Tories.
In 1997, Labour started to rebuild the NHS starting with its people with its workforce increasing 3 times faster under Labour than under the Tories and mean annual earnings for newly qualified nurses fell in real terms by more than £3,000 since 2010 and record numbers of health workers are now on zero hours contracts.
In 2019 there were around 100,000 NHS job vacancies in England, of which 40,000 were nurses and 10,000 doctors. The significant shortages in NHS staffing levels may explain why the newly built Nightingale hospitals were built, but not fully utilised.
And to cap it off, no government has invested less additional cash in real terms in our NHS that the Tory administrations post 2010. Between 2010 and 2017 NHS spending was the slowest of any NHS average spending settlement since 1955.
It is clear that the Tory record in government on the NHS has not been one of protecting the NHS.
Fewer doctors and nurses, fewer surgeries and walk-ins and reductions in bed availability is the Tory’s policy for the NHS, leaving dedicated workers to stretch their dedication and commitment to providing quality healthcare to the limits.
For nearly a year since this pandemic began, hard-working NHS workers have gone beyond the call of duty. In some cases risking their own lives to save others. In the face of personal stress, strain and even exhaustion they have delivered for the country. The least the government should do is ensure we do all possible to support their own well-being and properly value their contribution. Sadly, it is the Tories that continue to take them for granted.
It is therefore no surprise that the government did not want to publish their 2016 assessment of its own pandemic preparedness – Exercise Cygnus – until it was forced to an intervention from the Information Commissioner’s Office seven months into this pandemic, as it concluded that “its plans, policies and capability, is not sufficient to cope with the extreme demands of a severe pandemic that will have a nationwide impact across all sectors.”
Some say now is not the time to be critical of the government. I disagree.
There are many lessons that need to be learnt from this pandemic.
And the Tories should not be allowed to get away with the manner in which their ideological opposition to the NHS has affected the country’s level of response to covid-19.
Worryingly, their recently published health and care reforms are a continuation of this.
Yet we on the Left know this will not work – and only result in inefficiencies and inequity in accessing health care. And fundamentally leads to the privatisation of the NHS.
You only have to compare the botched politically managed Track and Trace system, cooked up by the Health and Social Care Secretary and claimed to be world beating by the Prime Minister, with the efficient and effective NHS-led vaccination programme. Driven by the NHS and based on health need to see who is on the side of the people.
This week’s budget, however, is an opportunity to change this.
The government should not only give a boost to the wages of NHS key workers, but also reject the privatisation of the NHS and an end to grotesque practices of dishing out NHS contracts to Tory cronies.
But most importantly, there needs to be an urgent commitment to massively increase NHS investment to the frontline to reverse the damage that has been done in the name of Tory austerity.
Failure to change direction will only put increased strain on an already stretched NHS and ignore the lessons of this pandemic – something the government may want, but something the country cannot afford to ignore.
- The Jon Trickett MP ‘No Holding Back’ column is one of a number of a regular columns on Labour Outlook from Socialist Campaign Group MPs, including Apsana Begum, Richard Burgon, Ian Lavery, John McDonnell, Kate Osborne, Bell Ribeiro-Addy & Claudia Webbe.
- Read the No Holding Back Activists’ Assembly report on we want and need from #Budget2021 here.