Our Understaffed and Underfunded NHS Is a Direct Result of This Government's Ideological Attachment to Austerity

08/07/2016 15:32 | Updated 10 July 2016
Lauren Hurley/PA Wire

Jeremy Hunt had few answers from the barrage of cross bench concern this week's parliamentary debates on the NHS funding and the impact of Brexit on the NHS.

When asked what he was doing to ensure that the NHS gets the £350million a week that it was promised during the Leave referendum campaign, the Secretary of State said "I am a little stumped, because I was never really sure whether we would see that money."

The government's health policy is utterly incoherent. The Leave half of the government is promising millions of pounds to the health service while the Remain side knows full well that that money will be unavailable in the economic chaos wrought by Britain's vote to leave the EU.
Financial problems may only be the half of it. The vote for Brexit and Tory talk of an Australian-style point system leave question marks over the status of the 100,000 EU nationals that work in, and prop up, our health and care system.

Rich and skilled EU nationals will be allowed in but poor and those considered unskilled EU nationals will be barred. It will result in class discrimination, which is abhorrent in itself, but will also damage our care system, which relies on low-skilled migrant labour to do difficult and emotional work in our care system.

Clearly this does little for morale in the NHS, which is already near rock bottom due to Tory cuts to the service made at the altar of austerity.

Everyone knows, including those who pretend not to, that the gaping deficits of 2008 and 2009 had been caused by the banking crisis, not the other way around.

Yet for the last six years the Conservative Party had sold the myth of austerity, promising that that cutting public services would "save money", rather than simply put our poorest citizens through unnecessary misery - or worse - and choke off a sustainable economic recovery.

The NHS has been biggest casualty of his this ideologically-driven slash and burn of the public sphere.

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 £22billion in cuts by 2020, which has pushed hospitals and A&E departments to the brink of failure.

The junior doctor's rejection of the government's contract is just the tip of the iceberg. Anger at the government's neglect of NHS staff and patients goes deep. An early 2016 report showed that one in ten nursing positions are not filled.

From next year, the government plans to scrap bursaries. They will fund nurse training through loans instead of grants to create an 'open market' that will remove the NHS's ability to place nurses where there is demand.

The shift from grants to loans is regressive. Nurses spend half of their training working in the wards of our hospitals. Making them pay for their own education means that they are in effect paying for the privilege to look after the nation's sick.

This government's actions are the complete opposite of addressing the current recruitment crisis. And with one in three nurses over 50 and set to retire in coming years, the NHS has no long-term plan.

Our under-staffed NHS is a direct result of the government's ideological attachment to austerity and a problem entirely of their own making.

Diane Abbott is the shadow health secretary and Labour MP for Hackney North