Last winter I thought that things couldn’t possibly get any worse. How could they? It’s not everyday that the Red Cross declares a humanitarian crisis in your workplace. Obviously, I was wrong. A year on and crisis is the new normal in the NHS. The headline news of patients dying on trollies in corridors, while shocking and saddening, was in no way surprising to those of us in the frontline.
Over the last six years we have lost 15,000 beds. Even if we were to somehow magic some up, there would be no staff to look after the patients who occupy them. We are short of at least 40,000 nurses and midwives needed to keep our patients safe. There are now more nurses leaving the profession than joining.
The government’s decision to scrap bursaries for NHS trainees has had the totally foreseeable effect of driving down the number of applicants. Equally, the imposition of increasingly difficult English language tests by the Nursing and Midwifery Council has underpinned a marked slump in overseas recruitment.
In the face of progressively more demanding workloads and real terms pay cuts of 14%, tens of thousands of us have have voted with our feet. In any other job, how many people would sign up to do more work, for less money, in what are the most challenging of circumstances?
The emergency demonstrations taking place on 3rd February is our first opportunity this year to demand the beds, staff and funds needed to resolve the operational crisis in the immediate term.
The deficit in beds and the shortfall in staff are hallmarks of a politically manufactured crisis. It therefore requires political solutions. The government’s track record on honesty with the NHS is not great. May and Hunt claim to have boosted our funding. In reality, however, billions have been leached out of the NHS by companies like Carillion, who have acted as nothing more than intermediaries in the transfer of wealth and resources, away from our patients and the public and into the already heavy pockets of private shareholders.
The privatisation agenda runs through the health policies of successive governments. It was the Blair and Brown governments who enthusiastically adopted the Private Finance Initiative, ladening local NHS trusts with exorbitant debts which are still being paid off. For their part, the Tories have increased NHS funding to private companies by over £2billion since 2014.
The resources are there but the Tories’ continued political commitment to privatisation prevents us from using the wealth that exists in society for the benefit of our patients. Demands for more beds, staff and funds are unavoidably political and ultimately incompatible with Theresa May’s incredibly weak minority Government. Bluntly, If we want the resources to keep patients safe, we have to bring down the government.
Join Health Campaigns Together and The Peoples’ Assembly on 3rd February for the emergency demonstrations - commencing at 12pm on Gower Street, London - and help send a very clear message to Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt. A mass movement is growing to defend our National Health Service. We want an end to cuts and closures in services. We need to reverse the scourge of privatisation. We demand a pay rise for NHS staff that begins to make up for the real terms cuts in wages since 2010. We will fight for a fully funded, publicly owned and provided National Health and Social Care Service.