By Niall Dooris
The NHS is in its greatest crisis since its creation. Staff shortages, budget cuts and outsourcing to private companies for decades has left it overwhelmed. Obscene waiting times, hospital beds in corridors, ambulances queuing outside hospitals waiting to be relieved of patients and rural areas deprived of emergency services are all now common occurrences across the UK. The human cost has been countless avoidable deaths and a traumatised workforce.
This is why it has been necessary for health workers to go on strike, not just for a fair pay rise but to fight to save the NHS from collapse. An inflation busting pay rise would be an important first step in solving the massive problem of staff shortages. According to the Tories and the media this is unaffordable and would cause inflation to spiral, despite the fact that it is actually gigantic profits driving inflation. Shell alone more than doubled its profits last year making £32 Billion from the cost of living crisis. It is this wealth hoarded at the top of society that could be used to fund transformative change of the NHS.
Kick out the profiteers!
Tories often speak of the need for “radical reform” which in practice means further privatisation of the NHS. The Tories have shown in practice that they have systematically starved the NHS and capitalised on this to emphasise the need for privatisation. This process began under the Thatcher government, continued by Tony Blair’s New Labour government and accelerated by recent Tory governments. For example, from 2010-2019 a £23.5 billion hole was left in the NHS budget due to austerity measures and new spending since then has dwarfed the actual amount needed. This left the service overwhelmed due to its lack of resources and provided the pretext to outsource certain areas of work to private companies like Virgin Health, owned by the billionaire Richard Branson.
According to The London School of Economics 25% of the NHS budget was spent on private outsourcing in 2019. This hasn’t resulted in greater efficiency or quality of care, research from ‘The Lancet’ suggests that there has been an increase in avoidable mortality the more private investment has been added. This left the NHS woefully unprepared for the pandemic which led to thousands of unavoidable deaths and further devastated the service. These outsourced areas of the service need to be taken out of the hands of the profiteers and placed back under public control if this crisis is to be tackled.
Save our NHS
It has been deliberate policies that have created this crisis, it is not the publicly owned universal nature of the NHS but the erosion of this in favour of private profit that makes it ineffective. The NHS remains popular because working class people recognise that they don’t want a healthcare system like the US where people are left financially crippled when they need a major operation. The NHS is not impossible to save as Tory rhetoric would have you believe. Fair pay rises and proper investment funded by taxing the wealthiest in society would go a long way to solving the crisis. But where this investment goes should be taken out of the hands of capitalist politicians or bureaucratic managers and put in control of those who understand the service the best, the workers. The necessary fight to achieve this has already begun on the picket lines, the struggle must be coordinated and determined if it hopes to succeed.