“Real terms Tory cuts in spending every year since 2010 have left an enormous financial hole to fill. That’s why SOSNHS is calling out the government’s deliberate under-funding.”
By John Lister, Health Campaigns Together & SOS NHS
This article is a published version of a speech given at Workers Can’t Wait – urgent action to address the cost-of-living crisis you can watch it in full here:
The NHS is the country’s biggest employer: and it is part of the social wage of every working person and their family.
It is short of at least 93,000 staff, – and it has put its frontline staff through all kinds of trauma in the past two years – leaving them under-staffed and under-funded to face the Covid pandemic.
But NHS staff are now being asked to make another heroic effort – to help clear the backlog that grew during the lockdown months. The waiting list is now above 6 million and forecast to rise for two more years at least.
A Public Accounts Committee report, out today, blames the government for “years of decline in the NHS’s cancer and elective care waiting time performance:”
“even before the pandemic the government did not increase capacity sufficiently to meet growing demand. … The NHS has not met the eight key standards for cancer care since 2014.”
Ministers now want staff to deliver more services, but they are not willing to spend enough money to expand NHS capacity – or pay NHS staff properly.
After a decade and more of real terms pay cuts, ministers’ proposal for this year is a 2-3% increase – way below the current level of inflation.
Sajid Javid last week claimed the government was at a crossroads: “a point where we must choose between endlessly putting in more money, or reforming how we do healthcare.”
I would opt for the cash every time: I am sure you would, too. But Sajid Javid doesn’t agree. He wants more of what he calls ‘reforms’ – even before the Health and Care Bill is on the statute book.
It’s also no surprise that none of the reforms he proposes solve any of the big problems facing the NHS. He talks about “personalised care” — which can’t be done without enough staff. This also includes personal health budgets – which need more funds, more support and suitable services for people to buy – and the “right to choose” which hospital to go to for elective care, which is already in the NHS Constitution.
And it’s cold comfort to an older patient in Birmingham, for example, with the country’s longest waiting list, to be told they have to compete with millions of other patients who are also facing long delays, in the hope of securing a quicker operation somewhere delays are shorter.
Patients want timely access to good quality care where they are, not to spend weeks trawling the internet – and then, if they are lucky, trek a hundred miles or so to a hospital for surgery – and find their own way back afterwards.
This is not even new: it’s the same old nonsense we were told with Margaret Thatcher’s internal market reforms in 1991, it’s the same old nonsense that got New Labour wasting billions building up a private sector in the 2000s, it’s the same old tosh we had in Andrew Lansley’s Act in 2012.
It doesn’t expand the beds available or the staff to look after patients. It doesn’t work even when there’s money in the pot: and right now we know there’s not enough.
Real terms Tory cuts in spending every year since 2010 have left an enormous financial hole to fill. That’s why SOSNHS is calling out the government’s deliberate under-funding. Now, in every plan that comes forward, the government are using lack of NHS capacity as a justification for ever greater spending on private hospitals and private providers.
Spending on private providers went up a staggering 26% in 2020 – £2.5bn – in a year as contracts were signed with private hospitals which we know were rotten value for money.
The private hospitals pocketed profits – while 5,000 NHS beds have remained unused since March 2020 for lack of cash to remodel wards and buildings for social distancing and infection control.
We’re calling for emergency funding of £20bn as a one-off down payment to kick start a revival, and for every pound to be spent on NHS provision.
It would allow the NHS to invest in restoring and expanding capacity.
- repairing and rebuilding dilapidated hospitals, replacing clapped out equipment,
- reopening the 5,000 acute beds,
- investing in mental health, with new buildings and staff.
- It would also fully fund last year’s miserable 3% pay award, and fund a decent real terms pay increase to help retain staff and recruit the staff we need.
Of course Rishi Sunak will claim it’s unaffordable. But we know that’s not true: we know Sunak happily threw £47billion into ‘bounce back loans’, and is not bothered that more than half of it seems to have been stolen or lost. If they can find it to waste it, they can find it to invest in the NHS.
We know there are many ways of raising that money without taxing working people and the poor, and that’s what must be done.
- We need to give NHS staff hope that things will get better
- We need to convince patients and the public that the NHS can recover
SOSNHS, initiated by Health Campaigns Together and Keep our NHS Public, has emerged this year as a new alliance leading the fight on these issues. We are now backed by 51 trade unions and other organisations: our petition at sosnhs.org, to be handed in to Downing Street next week, has 116,000 signatures. Our brilliant Day of Action on February 26 had 85 local events across the country.
We will be keeping up the fight – because we can’t afford not to.
We’ve only got one NHS – it’s time to fight for its life.
So even if we can’t kick them out right now, let’s keep kicking this corrupt, despicable government until we get another U-turn. £20bn now!
- John Lister is an activist for Health Campaigns Together and SOS NHS. This article is a published version of a speech given at “Workers Can’t Wait – urgent action to address the cost-of-living crisis” on March 16th, 2022. You can watch John’s contribution here, or the meeting in full here.
- Add your name to the the SOS NHS petition, being delivered to Downing Street next week.
- Show your support for Health Campaigns Together here, and Keep Our NHS Public here.