View from the street: 'A None Too Happy Birthday for the NHS'
George Binette, Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP Trade Union
- Credit: PA
Monday, July 5 marked the 73rd anniversary of the National Health Service. The Queen bestowed a George Cross on it and royal representatives joined a service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral. But praise from the House of Windsor cannot obscure the profound threats currently confronting the NHS.
An immediate danger arises from a recruitment and retention crisis, fuelled by years of underinvestment and the continued erosion of real pay. Across the NHS there are more than 100,000 vacancies including 40,000+ nursing posts. Meanwhile, the government unleashed a second threat on July 19 with its gamble to scrap all remaining Covid restrictions even as confirmed cases shoot up and hospital admissions rise against the backdrop of record waiting list of 5.3 million patients.
The third and perhaps most fundamental threat comes in the form of the Health and Care Bill now before parliament, which once enacted will accelerate the pace and expand the scale of NHS privatisation. With the appointment as health secretary of Sajid Javid, an avowed fan of the late Ayn Rand, philosophical champion of selfish individualism, NHS campaigners’ fears have moved closer to reality. Already, Operose, the British arm of US health insurance giant Centene, controls more GP practices than any other provider, while Virgin Care has secured a seat on the Integrated Care System (ICS) board covering much of Somerset and Wiltshire. ICS boards will have the power to award lucrative contracts.
The Tory goal is not yet wholesale Americanisation, though the ICS model is certainly US-inspired and reflects a shared New Labour and Tory obsession with supposed efficiency savings. But why emulate a bureaucratic nightmare of a profit-driven healthcare system, which eats up nearly 18pc of the USA’s Gross Domestic Product only to yield worse outcomes for many Americans? Average US life expectancy lags nearly three years behind the UK’s and ranks 40th overall, while infant mortality rates are higher than in any European state. Surely, this is one issue around which the Labour Party and movement can – and must - unite and mobilise.
- George Binette is Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP Trade Union liaison