In April, Health Minister Robin Swann admitted that it could take 10 years to address the waiting list crisis in Northern Ireland. With the suspension and curtailment of many services, the Covid-19 pandemic had a massive impact on waiting lists. Even before this, however, Northern Ireland’s health waiting lists were amongst the longest in Europe, and the longest of any NHS region.
The pitiful submission by the Tories of a 1% increase for all NHS staff to the Pay Review Board is a huge kick in the teeth to all those frontline workers. The government’s hypocritical excuse for the award is that they cannot afford it. This jaw dropping assertion has left even media commentators agog at the Tories’ complete underestimation of the mood in the workplace and the wider public. As soon as the information was made public on March 6th, nurses’ social media posts began to hum with fury and rage, as well as understandable despair. Sunak had just delivered a budget which had committed to spend another £65bn in the next 4 months and then claimed there was no money left!
At the time of writing, the third Covid surge is threatening to overwhelm hospitals, North and South. There are significant differences between the health systems, and they are not alone globally as others have faltered. Under capitalism, health is a commodity. Worldwide, we see public health care systems suffering from lack of funding and increasing marketisation, with deadly consequences for working-class people.
The Stormont politicians – like those at Westminster and in Dublin – are brazenly trying to scapegoat ordinary people for an increase in Covid infection which has been caused by their own pro-corporate policies. Socialists recognise the seriousness of this pandemic and support all necessary measures to protect public health, but the cost must not fall on the shoulders of workers.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the reality of years of chronic underfunding of the NHS. The reality of cutbacks has been evident in the scramble to obtain appropriate PPE, the lack of available ventilators, as well as staff shortages. The pandemic has led to a substantial increase in those on waiting lists, reflective of a longer-term crisis within the NHS. This raises the question of NHS management and illustrates the impact of privatisation.
Across Britian and Northern Ireland to date, over 200 health workers’ lives have been lost to Covid-19. However, Westminster and the Stormont Executive have manipulated the figures, so this will be grossly under-estimated. Grotesquely, the overwhelming majority of these deaths were preventable. The Assembly followed the Tory plan, prioritising profit before people to protect the interests of big business and capitalism. Sinn Féin and the DUP disgracefully used the pandemic as an opportunity to pursue their own sectarian agendas, throwing the Executive into paralysis. This can only be described as criminally negligent in the extreme.
"THESE ARE the times that try men’ souls. You will no doubt hear a great
number of stories respecting the situation of this country. Its present unfortunate state is entirely owing to treachery; the rich always betray the poor.”
The short answer to the question the title of this documentary poses is yes, the government has failed the NHS. However, the reality is that it’s a lot deeper than just that.
The recent round of industrial action taken in the health service was an example of the power that workers have through collective struggle. The campaign of escalating industrial action, involving multiple unions and including coordinated strikes, brought the issues of pay inequality and under-staffing to the fore.