More than a decade of privatisation and underfunding has left the NHS on its knees. If we want to preserve a public health service that is free at the point of use and available to all, now is the time to fight for it.

We are living under a deeply cruel, ideologically-driven government. Since coming to power in 2010, the Conservative’s austerity programme has caused over 330,000 deaths, and the mishandling of the pandemic saw a further 200,000 deaths, many of them avoidable. Currently, an estimated 500 people are dying each week because of delays in emergency care, while countless more pass away on NHS waiting lists. 

The human cost of the government’s mismanagement of the NHS is difficult to overstate, but it results from an intentional policy to underfund healthcare and allow private interests to extract money from the system. 

The UK now spends about a fifth less on healthcare than our European neighbours—a gap of over £40 billion each year. In fact, one of the first acts of the Cameron government was to cut costs by halting the expansion of medical school training for doctors and cutting 4000 nurses’ training places. The wages of NHS workers were the next target, resulting in more than a decade of below-inflation pay rises, causing the real terms pay of staff to plummet—nurses are paid over £5000 a year less than in 2010. 

We are paying for these decisions today. There are 133,000 vacancies in the NHS, including 50,000 nurses and 17,000 doctors, including GPs. Years of underfunding have resulted in a deadly shortage of hospital beds, GP surgeries and health centres in a state of decay, hospital buildings that are literally crumbling, and a burnt-out and frustrated workforce. In my years of practice, I have never seen staff morale so low. 

All the while, money that should be spent improving services is being syphoned off by private companies. The Government is pouring money into private contractors to cherry-pick NHS patients from waiting lists. As a result, private companies are now performing more hip replacements for the NHS than the NHS. The funding for these operations comes from the NHS, but privateers take a slice. 

Year on year, more and more services are handed over to the private companies to deliver, including imaging, pharmacy, data collection and IT services. Some of these contracts are for eye-watering amounts, such as the £2.25 billion contract to provide pathology services in South East London billion, awarded with no public consultation. The ‘public’ element of our public services is being eroded. 

It is bad enough that an increasing number of NHS services are farmed out to the private sector, but just as concerning is the impact of substandard public healthcare in driving patients towards privatised healthcare. With 7.3 million people on waiting lists, wealthier people are paying for private operations, normalising a two-tier health service and devaluing the NHS.

Britain’s adult social care system is a cautionary tale of how a fully privatised system might look. Often owned by hedge funds based in tax havens, private providers take between 20-40 percent of their budget as profit, neglecting those in their care and underpaying staff.  The poverty wages paid to carers are evidence of the type of exploitation that happens in a system where private companies are free to maximise profits. 

Beyond the money that is wasted and taken out of the system as profit, privately provided healthcare is less effective, with research from Oxford revealing a link between outsourcing services and increased death rates. 

The state our NHS is in and the trajectory it is on is concerning, but there is room for optimism. Most Britons want a properly funded, publicly-owned NHS, with just one in ten supporting a wholly or substantially private service. And the large majority of voters, including 73 percent of Tory voters, rightly blame the Government for the current crisis. 

The NHS is in serious danger, but we know how to save it. That’s why this Saturday 11th March, we at SOS NHS will be demonstrating in London along with 55 supporting unions and campaigns. We will be demanding that all NHS workers get the pay rise they deserve, a commitment to end privatisation in the NHS (including from Labour), and that our NHS receives the funding it needs. And we’ll be opposing the new laws attacking the right of healthcare workers to go on strike too. 

If you share our aims and think a public NHS is worth fighting for, join us.

 

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