Founded 68 years ago today, the NHS has transformed public health in Britain, earning that oft-overused accolade: a national treasure.
But today is an unhappy birthday for the institution.
Staff report that morale is at an all-time low as resources are spread thinner and thinner amid an aging population and deep cuts to the social care sector, for which the NHS now picks up the slack.
The Public Accounts Committee said in May that the NHS is nationally short of 50,000 front line staff and the Government is driving through £22bn in cuts by 2020, which has pushed hospitals and A&E departments to the brink of failure.
Junior doctors have been striking over pay and unsafe contracts imposed upon them by the government and today rejected the government’s derisory contract offer.
Trained nurses and midwives are protesting plans by the Conservative government to scrap the bursaries they receive while they are studying. Auxiliary nurses and cleaners dare not protest because they are largely non-unionised workers on low pay.
The resource crunch has inevitably lead to a crisis in workforce planning. The NHS is haemorrhaging cash on costly agency staff, who are attracting NHS employees in such great numbers that staffing is effectively being outsourced to the private sector.
NHS staff are shifted from pillar to post, breaking up the stable teams that used to bind them together in the common endeavour of caring for the nation’s sick.
I have always been astounded that we in Britain are full of pride and praise for the NHS and yet our proportionate health spend ranks 13th out of the original 15 countries of the EU. And it’s set to get worse: as a proportion of GDP, spending will this year fall to 6.6% compared to 7.3 per cent in 2014/15.
It is no secret that the NHS needs more money. This has become especially true as Britain’s vote to Brexit precipitated a fall of the pound and the demoting of Britain’s credit rating, which has placed further budgetary pressures on the NHS. The government has no plan to assist patients who are already being denied lifesaving medicines and services due to the increased cost of post-Brexit vote imports.
On staffing, the points-based immigration system advocated by Michael Gove and his erstwhile friend Boris Johnson would also mean that the low-skilled migrant workers who form the backbone of the care sector would be denied entry to Britain.
None of this should come as a surprise. Before the vote, Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, warned of the consequences of Brexit to public health. “When the British economy sneezes, the NHS catches a cold,” he said.
But what I find particularly incredulous is that Michael Gove, the only senior surviving architect for any of the Leave campaigns, is still making promises that he knows he cannot keep.
Although he has reverse ferreted out of his campaign’s original lie to take “£350m a week from Brussels and spend it on the NHS” – promising £100m a week instead – he has not explained how he will find £5.2bn each year from an economy that he has significantly weakened.
I call upon Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Heath, to provide immediate clarity on the fiscal health of the NHS over the coming year.
Britain deserves nothing less than a well-financed and functional NHS with happy and productive staff.
But we will not get there by fulfilling the Health Secretary’s “ambition” to “break down the barriers between private and public provision, in effect denationalising the provision of health care in Britain.”
Nor will we get there on the hollow promises of ascendant Leave campaigners vying for Tory party leadership, who are ideologically wedded to a weak public sector, and an immigration policy that will jeopardise the NHS’s ability to function.
Instead of making empty promises and orchestrating disputes with our hardworking doctors and nurses, the Labour party stands in solidarity with all of the health care professionals that keep our NHS running.
As we celebrate 68 years of our health service, we must acknowledge that the government has let down its staff, particularly those not born in the UK, by making them feel unappreciated and insecure in their jobs.
But the Labour party today offers its gratitude to every single NHS worker. We are honoured by your continued service and we know that the rest of the country appreciates you too.