The NHS is in crisis. It needs investment, not #AutumnStatement austerity – Holly Turner, NHS Workers Say No


“This is a Government who are choosing to make public sector workers poorer, whilst lifting the cap on bankers bonuses.”

Holly Turner, NHS Workers Say No

This article is an adapted version of the speech given by Holly Turner, NHS Workers Say No, at the “Hunt & Sunak’s ‘austerity autumn statement’ – how do we respond?” briefing held on November 17th, 2022.

What we have seen this week is Jeremy hunt and Rishi Sunak unleash a new wave of austerity on people in Britain, and our public services.

This is a government who have crashed the economy and left working people to pay the bill. Whilst they claim to be putting the NHS first with a £3.3 billion funding increase, this is in reality just another real terms cut and will go nowhere to solving the real issues across our health service. The NHS has a deficit of 35 billion pounds a year, it requires continued funding which meets the rise in inflation, to ensure that we have a health system which remains free to all with a workforce which is well resourced and staffed to meet the needs of society.

The UK’s health and social care system is in complete crisis with record demand and waiting times, a growing backlog and upcoming winter pressures, which will be exacerbated by rising living costs. Jeremy Hunt keeps repeating the line that increased demand is down to an ageing population, but we really need to put this to bed.

In fact, life expectancy has slowed and even reversed in some of the most deprived areas and health inequality is at it’s worst. The cost-of-living crisis is impacting on people’s physical and mental health, putting pressure on the NHS and this is a public health issue.

The truth is that the NHS crisis has been years in the making. A report by the health foundation revealed that the UK has spent around 20% less per person on health each year than similar European countries over the past decade.

The data shows that we would have had to invest 40 billion every year for the last decade to have similar outcomes to other European countriesThe pay award predicted for staff in 2023 is just 2% which will represent real terms pay cut of up to £1500 for many staff. This will result in more leaving which will only pile misery on the ones who remain, who will be expected to do more with less, under brutal working conditions with patients paying the price with their health, and their lives.

As we know, large parts of both the NHS & Ambulance service have achieved a mandate to take strike action, yet this week we have heard no assurances for any of these groups’ workers. The chancellor missed a vital opportunity to address the NHS workforce crisis, and the restorative pay rise which is desperately needed to retain staff who are leaving in droves. It was disappointing to hear no mention whatsoever of the pay crisis across public services and what that means. Ministers should be offering public sector workers the pay rise we are owed, not driving many to food banks and selling back their annual leave to make ends meet.

This then is a Government who are choosing to make public sector workers poorer, whilst lifting the cap on bankers bonuses.

We hear a lot from this government about growth, but if they were serious about this, then they should be investing in the NHS as it would give a return. Having people unable to work due to long term sickness is no good, this is what we are seeing due to over 7 million sat on waiting lists. Research has shown that for every £1 invested in the NHS generates a £4 return. Increasing pay for public sector workers is an effective way to support the economy by boosting spending in every community, in every corner of the UK. The treasury will benefit from increased tax revenues and reap the benefits of people spending money too. Running the NHS with 135,000 vacancies is expensive too, with trusts paying incredible amounts to agencies to cover shifts, with total spending on agency staff up by 20% last year to 3 billion pounds. Taxpayers are left picking up the bill whilst their standards of care suffer. Investing in our NHS, starting with a decent pay rise to recruit and retain staff is the right thing to do, to safeguard care and grow our economy.

The Health Secretary met with leaders from across the health unions this week, but the public really mustn’t confuse these meetings for any form of serious discussions on pay and safety. In fact. Steve Barclay unbelievably refused to discuss pay at all during these meetings. The Conservatives only have themselves to blame as we gear up for large scale strikes across the NHS this winter, workers have been pushed to the brink and refuse to accept themselves and their patients being put at risk any longer.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) have called for formal, detailed negotiations with the government on NHS Pay and patient safety ahead of strike dates being announced next week. If these negotiations don’t take place, we will see coordinated strike dates across the health unions announced for this side of Christmas; and there really is no time to waste.

We have had 12 and a half years of this government and we keep hearing questions of ‘how are they going to fix this mess’ – make no mistake, this mess is their mess and they have to have no intentions other than continuing to leave the most vulnerable to suffer. We cannot allow this, which is why we are seeing workers fighting back in their unions and their communities.

As part of this fightback, as NHS workers we offer solidarity and strength to all workers in dispute – we stand with you, please stand with us too!

Featured image: Holly Turner, NHS Workers Say No, holds a placards saying nurses and doctors support RMT strikes. Photo credit: NHS Workers Say No.

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