We must support striking NHS workers and keep up the fight against Tory privatisation – Margaret Greenwood MP


“The problems we are seeing now are the result of a long-term drive by the Conservatives to destroy the NHS as a publicly owned, publicly managed service.”

By Margaret Greenwood MP

Members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) are taking strike action for the very first time in their 106-year history as they fight for fair pay and improved patient safety.

Public support has been strong and it is vital that people continue to show their support in the coming weeks.

Nurses on picket lines have told me that they do not take strike action lightly. They have told me too of how stressed and burnt out they are because they do not have enough colleagues working alongside them.   

Some have spoken about the stress they feel at shift handover times, when there are not enough staff to take over, and how they end up working additional hours without pay to ensure that their patients receive care. Their dedication is immense.

NHS staff are overstretched because Conservative governments have failed to plan and provide for safe staffing levels. This has not happened by accident, but by design.

It has been clear for decades that the Conservatives are intent on undermining the NHS as a comprehensive and universal public service.

The book NHS For Sale, by Jacky Davis, John Lister and David Wrigley, is an excellent resource on this and sets out some of the historical background, including the following.

In 1982, senior Conservative MPs John Redwood and Oliver Letwin wrote a pamphlet in which they advocated privatising the NHS.

Then, in 1988, Letwin wrote a book entitled Privatising the World: a Study of International Privatisation in Theory and Practice, which talked of increased joint ventures between the NHS and the private sector and ultimately aiming to create a ‘national health insurance system separate from the tax system.’ 

In 2008, Jeremy Hunt, now Chancellor of the Exchequer, co-authored a book entitled Direct Democracy: an Agenda for a New Model Party in which he said: ‘Our ambition should be to break down the barriers between private and public provision, in effect denationalising the provision of healthcare in Britain.’

And in 2011, then Prime Minister David Cameron made a speech in which he said: “From the Health Secretary, I don’t just want to know about waiting times. I want to know how we drive the NHS to be a fantastic business for Britain.”

It should then come as no surprise that Conservative governments have long been squeezing the supply of NHS provision and driving demand for private healthcare.

Their determination to replace the NHS with a system that puts business rather than patients at the heart of things is also evident in the legislation that they have passed.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 in effect allows NHS Foundation Trusts to earn 49% of their income from treating private patients – way above the 0.1%-2% that was typical at the time.

It is astonishing that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government had initially planned to enable NHS Foundation Trusts to earn all of their income from treating private patients, but this was amended during the passage of the bill. Had the Tories and Lib Dems been able to go through with their initial plan, the impact on NHS patients could have been catastrophic.

The 49% legislated for in 2012 shows the ruthlessness of Tory ambition when it comes to undermining and privatising the NHS.

My recent Early Day Motion 805 in parliament highlights this and calls on the government to put an end to NHS facilities being used to provide services to private patients.

The problems we are seeing now – high vacancy rates, long waiting lists and underpaid and overstretched staff – are the result of a long-term drive by the Conservatives to destroy the NHS as a publicly owned, publicly managed service. So, when striking NHS staff say they are taking action for pay, patient safety and to save the NHS, they are not exaggerating.

Some NHS Trusts are reported to be promoting expensive private healthcare at their hospitals, offering patients the chance to jump NHS waiting lists. This privatisation is undermining the NHS as a comprehensive and universal service.

The Conservatives have left the NHS underfunded and under-resourced, and they have pushed nurses, ambulance workers and other dedicated staff to the brink. We all want to see a swift resolution to the current industrial disputes, and it has to be one that is fair for hard working NHS staff.

The government’s refusal to get round the table with the unions speaks volumes about how little they value the NHS workforce.

It is not just nurses and other NHS workers who the government are punishing when it comes to the NHS. Patients are suffering too. Waiting lists for routine treatment, around 4.4 million pre-Covid, recently reached over 7.1 million.

The crisis in the NHS is clear for all to see – and it is of the Conservative’s own making.

The NHS is fundamental to how we live in this country. We know that if we become ill or have an accident, the NHS is there for us, free at the point of use, when we need it. It is of immense importance that we fight to save it. By taking industrial action, nurses and other NHS staff are doing just that.

The government must listen to and address their concerns.

For our part, we must continue to demonstrate our unwavering support for nurses and other NHS workers. We must continue to fight for the NHS as a comprehensive, universal, publicly owned, publicly run service, free for each and every one of us whenever we need it.

Featured image: Margaret Greenwood MP join the RCN picket during the nurses’ strike on February 6th. Photo credit: Margaret Greenwood MP/twitter

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