Tory political choices are to blame for the NHS crisis – John McDonnell


“We must make our voices heard collectively at the SOS NHS demonstration on March 11, bringing people together in the run-up to the Budget. Now is the time to fight for our NHS.”

By John McDonnell MP

Recent figures from UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) showed a steep decline in the number of people applying for nursing courses in England, with these applications down 18% in just one year, falling from 33,410 in 2022 to 27,370 this year.

These alarming figures come at the same time as we are seeing a record high-level of 47,000 nursing vacancies in England and accompanying deep staffing crisis in many NHS bodies.

As RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive, Pat Cullen put it “These figures are damning for the government. Not only are they losing a record number of experienced nurses from the NHS but they are compounding the problem by deterring the next generation,” and “nursing staff, today’s and tomorrow’s alike, need to know they are valued and that starts with fair pay.”

A further set of recent statistics released by the ONS showed that vacancies in healthcare account for 1 in 10 job vacancies across the UK. There are 132,000 NHS staff vacancies at the moment.

The ONS figures also showed – and this is of course no co-incidence when looking at levels of vacancies and people leaving the NHS and other public services – that growth in private sector pay continues to easily outstrip public sector pay.

The average pay of an NHS nurse has fallen in real terms by 8% since 2010. Nurses were paid £35,680 on average in the year to April 2022, equating to a reduction of more than £3,000 from a decade earlier after adjusting for inflation.

However, the Tories try to spin it, this is the context to the unprecedented industrial action that has taken place in the NHS.

The Prime Minister needs to step in and offer fair pay for NHS workers.

As well as fair pay, Keep Our NHS Public points out that we need to train and recruit more staff by scrapping tuition fees and bringing back the NHS student bursary.

And it isn’t just with regards to pay and staffing shortages, that yet more evidence is mounting that you can’t trust the Tories with our NHS.

Years of austerity and the accompanying lack of the necessary investment – combined with inefficient, ideologically-driven outsourcing and privatisation which means money goes into the pockets of profiteers rather than public service – has meant there are record high waiting lists, and major delays on urgent treatment.

Looked at in terms of over a decade of Tory austerity, the waiting list has almost trebled, from 2.5m in 2010 to 4.5m in 2019 and 7.1m in 2022.

Acute bed numbers have fallen by 9,000 to below 100,000.

The Tories are refusing to give the NHS the funding it needs to the level of comparable countries and that means people are dying and many more needlessly suffering due to this situation.

Failure on funding doesn’t just mean there aren’t enough staff, it also means shortages in modern equipment.

Added to this is the crisis in social care – also of the Tories making – that means hospitals can’t discharge patients, and already inadequate numbers of beds are further stretched.

Campaigners are also warning of a developing mental health crisis among health and care staff.

The crisis in the NHS is unprecedented and its very future is at stake. As John Lister has said, “we need a campaign, a movement, qualitatively bigger and broader than we have ever been able to build before – big enough to force changes in government policy, but also big enough to convince NHS staff they have real support, and show younger people thinking of training as health professionals that the NHS as we have known it still has a future and is being actively fought for.”

We must get to the picket lines to back the NHS workers’ strikes and make our voices heard collectively at the SOS NHS demonstration on March 11, bringing people together in the run-up to the Budget to demand:

  • Emergency funding now
  • Investment in a fully publicly owned NHS & guarantee free healthcare for future generations
  • The Paying of staff properly: without fair pay, staffing shortages will cost lives

Now is the time to fight for our NHS.

  • SOS NHS DEMONSTRATION – END THE NHS CRISIS – SUPPORT THE STRIKES. Saturday 11 March – 12pm – Central London, NW1 3AA. Get more information here and sign-up for the Labour bloc here.
  • John McDonnell is the MP for Hayes and Harlington and regular contributor to Labour Outlook, follow him on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.
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Featured image: John McDonnell joins the nurses’ picket at St Thomas’ hospital in London on February 7th, 2023. Photo credit: John McDonnell/Twitter

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