OPINION
03/02/2021 06:00 GMT

Want To Honour Captain Tom? Fight For A Properly-Funded NHS

Captain Tom’s fundraising was laudable. But our NHS should never have to be a charity case, writes Harriet Williamson.

On Tuesday we lost war veteran and NHS fundraiser Captain Sir Tom Moore, shortly after the 100-year-old tested positive for coronavirus.

Captain Tom hit the headlines last year after raising a massive £33million for the NHS. He walked 100 laps of his garden in Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire, during the first lockdown in March to raise funds for NHS Charities Together. For his efforts, he was knighted by the Queen in a special ceremony in July. 

The day Moore died, Downing Street lowered the flag above Number Ten to half-mast in his honour. But if Boris Johnson and his government truly wanted to pay tribute to such a selfless man, they would take responsibility for underfunding and selling off parts of the National Health Service that Captain Tom loved.

Over the last decade of Conservative rule, deep cuts to the NHS have decimated services and left us in a perilously weak position to address the coronavirus pandemic.

The Tories have systematically stripped resources from the NHS since the Conservative and Lib Dem coalition came into power in 2010. 

They abolished bursaries for trainee nurses in 2017, after a McKinsey report showed that there would be ‘less need’ for nurses in the future. How wrong that report turned out to be. 

Any Tory MP praising the efforts of Captain Tom should save their words. Their party is quietly destroying our National Health Service.

Parts of the NHS have been sold off to private companies, including the NHS blood plasma supplier in 2013 by then-health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who handed it to the US private equity firm Bain Capital for £200million. 

In 2019, a Guardian report showed private firms had been given almost £15billion in NHS contracts in the last five years. Despite claims from top Tories including the health secretary Matt Hancock that there is “no privatisation” of the NHS occurring, the value of contracts given to non-NHS providers (and mainly to profit-driven firms) have soared by 89% since 2015. Care UK and Richard Branson’s Virgin were among the biggest beneficiaries. 

Mental health services have also faced brutal cuts. Between 40 and 50% of mental health trusts in England have seen reductions in their budgets each year between 2012/13 and 2015/16.

In 2017, Conservative MPs actually cheered when they blocked a pay rise for the very same nurses they performatively clapped in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Captain Tom’s efforts to raise money for the NHS are laudable. But the NHS should not be a charity case. It should always be properly funded by the government, not cut to the bone and stripped for assets to raise ready cash. 

We shouldn’t see Captain Tom's death, and that of so many others, as some sort of unavoidable tragedy.

Any Tory MP praising the efforts of Captain Tom should save their words. Their party is quietly destroying our National Health Service, and have been doing so ever since introducing their devastating austerity agenda under David Cameron and George Osborne.

The result? Austerity has left Britain with the worst death toll from Covid-19 in Europe. We have lost 100,000 people to this virus, and the worst thing? It was completely avoidable. Austerity slowed life expectancy for people, particularly poor and vulnerable people, in the UK. The state was rolled back and public spending reduced from 42% of GDP in 2009-10 to 35% in 2018-19. In deprived areas, the reduction was even greater. The most vulnerable people in our society were left to shoulder the burden of a bank-created crisis as the government worked to make them poorer through benefit cuts and cuts to local authority services. 

Due to austerity, we were in a poor position to combat a pandemic like coronavirus, in terms of NHS preparedness and our stocks of PPE. But moreover, the current government have handled the virus appallingly – from their reticence to lockdown, to their constant insistence on prioritising profit over human life by encouraging people to Eat Out To Help Out and urging us to “go back to work”. 

Captain Sir Tom Moore is one of more than 100,000 victims of coronavirus, but we shouldn’t see his death, and that of so many others, as some sort of unavoidable tragedy. Their deaths are the very real consequences of bad governance and irresponsible policy. 

Reacting to Captain Tom’s death, Boris Johnson called Moore a “hero”. If the war veteran was indeed a hero, who are the villains of this piece? I believe the answer is pretty damn clear.

Harriet Williamson is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter at @harriepw