The announcement of Jeremy Hunt’s departure as Health Secretary has coincided nicely with the NHS’ 70th Birthday - and NHS admirers, especially its suffering workforce, are ready to extend the celebrations, having watched the NHS suffer the worst winter crisis and longest emergency waiting times in history, on his watch, not to mention creeping privatisation.
And the NHS’ gain is another loss to embassies across the world, although many believe that Hunt must at least fare better than the Boris Jonson, who has been dubbed as the worst Foreign Secretary in history. Not a great look when the Prime Minister wishes to angle Britain as being global thinking.
But while it is out of the pan, it may be into the fire for the NHS, with the potential losses coming from May’s Chequers Brexit plan to our workforce, research, and Euro Atom membership, which the Royal College of Radiologists and British Nuclear Medicine Society have expressed grave concerns. And while the promised £20billion boost to the NHS is certainly welcome, it is clear that it does not come from a non-existent Brexit dividend, which has already knocked 2% off the UK economic in less than two years, according to the Bank of England, at a cost of £40billion to our economy.
The collapse of the pound after the referendum result, and its current fluctuations over the government’s instability and ministerial resignations, are already being felt on the NHS balance sheets. It means more expensive medications coming from abroad, and more expensive bills from Britons enjoying the benefits of their European Health Insurance Card in Europe, or people in Northern Ireland who are accessing cross-border care.
While the red-bus myth has been debunked long ago, according to Eurostat, the public mood has shifted this year and people now recognise that Brexit will not be good for our dear NHS or the people that work there. Trump’s visit to the UK this week is yet another hurdle, as he seeks to reduce worker’s rights and champion American pharmaceutical companies at the expense of our NHS. In a future trade deal with Britain, he will be asking for US companies to sue the British Government if its laws impede on their profits, by reversing privatisation of the NHS, say, which would tie the hands of a future Labour Government.
The Government binds itself to the referendum result that people voted for, which would surely mean saving the NHS first and foremost, through continued Single Market and Customs Union membership. So while the cabinet reshuffle is an insular vote by the government on its Brexit plan, we must now ensure that we put our NHS first and give people a vote on the final deal.