Today, for the first time since the NHS was founded, junior doctors have taken all-out strike action to oppose imposition of a contract that they say would make patient care unsafe by over-stretching staff who are already at breaking point. Despite attempts by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to smear the doctors, most people believe that the government has forced the doctors into taking this action. But to what purpose?
Including NHS privatisation in an election manifesto is political suicide – so the current government included a 7-day NHS, but omitted to provide extra staffing.
So, where there’s a will there’s a way and this crisis is only the latest step in a strategy of creeping privatisation that’s been going forward for some years. While publicly declaring their commitment to the NHS, the coalition government abolished the legal duty of the Secretary of State to provide health care and introduced measures to dismantle the NHS leaving you so dissatisfied that you turn to private insurance, if you can afford it.
And the demolition continues under the current government. While the government continues to claim it has maintained spending on front-line services, cuts to social care and other budget decisions have brought our NHS to the point of collapse.
Hidden away in this year’s budget was a 30% cut to the NHS capital budget – money for repairs to buildings and repair and replacement of broken or out-of-date equipment. That leaves a shortfall of more than £1 billion for current work and replacement before the year begins.
Hospitals have been fined millions of pounds that could have been spent on patients because they didn’t meet response targets. How’s that supposed to help? To be fair, the system used to have some kind of logic. Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), which include GPs, could withhold funds if targets weren’t reached, but it was at the discretion of the CCG. If they saw a consistent failure in a particular area, they paid the money with the condition that it be spent improving the failing area. But now, CCGs have been instructed to withhold the money, decreasing funding and driving struggling services deeper into failure.
Take this together with the dispute over doctors’ contracts and the “plan” to deliver a 7-day NHS with no increase in funding or staffing and a frightening picture emerges. With doctors and other health care staff spread ever more thinly, targets such as waiting times in A&E will inevitably be missed, triggering a vicious circle of withheld funds and deteriorating services.
We need to stand up for our health service, for the patients and for the people who work in it. As a first step, why not write to your MP about these issues? But fixing single issues isn’t enough. We need our NHS fully restored as a public service. Green MP Caroline Lucas has been at the forefront in taking the fight to parliament, introducing the NHS Reinstatement bill to reverse the creeping privatisation carried out by successive governments (http://www.carolinelucas.com/issues/health).