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3rd February 2023

NHS Strikes: Why our NHS isn’t feeling well

The NHS is a proud institution, but neither its legacy nor its future are in safe hands
NHS Strikes: Why our NHS isn’t feeling well
Photo: Steve Eason @ Flickr

The National Health Service was founded in 1948 by health secretary Aneurin Bevan as a key pillar of the welfare state. Established by Clement Atlee’s Labour government, the NHS aimed to make post-war Britain a fairer, more equal society.

For more than 70 years the NHS has been successful in this endeavour. Class is now a smaller factor in deciding the average person’s health and people from all backgrounds, rich and poor, receive the same, high level of care. Throughout its history, the NHS has been a shining light globally. It’s proved to be a fine example of how a modern, civilised society should care of its population, outperforming the EU average when it comes to things such as life expectancy and being rated the best healthcare system by the commonwealth fund.

So, why then after so much sustained and consistent success is the NHS in the state it currently finds itself? In December last year an estimated 100,000 nurses from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) went on strike for the first time in its 106-year history, with more strikes planned for February 6 and 7. Ambulance workers from GMB, Unison, and Unite went on strike in December and January with four further days of action planned from GMB in February. And finally, more than 4,200 physiotherapy staff in the NHS voted to strike on January 26 and February 9.

It’s important to note these people don’t want to go on strike. They don’t want to stop serving their duty of care towards their patients, but they have no choice. These strikes are necessary not only because of poor pay levels but also due to a lack of investment in the NHS.

Since 2010 NHS funding has plummeted. For the first 10 years of Tory rule, the expected increase of 4% to account for inflation was only met once, with funding increasing less than 2% on average. The number of doctors and nurses per person has also fallen with the UK now being below the OECD average. Waiting times have also more than tripled rising from around 2.5 million in 2010 to over 7 million today.

The diagnosis is clear. The systematic and deliberate degradation of the NHS is something that has been in the background of all our lives for more than a decade now. It would be nice to provide words of optimism to try and paint the light at the end of the tunnel, but unfortunately, I just can’t see it.

I’ve passed the point of annoyance from political squabbling over funding formulas and ‘new’ hospitals. I’m far removed from the false promises and two-faced governing year upon year. I can’t bear to hear another Conservative MP state how they love the NHS with all their heart when, in reality, any support is a superficial method to win votes.

Everything the NHS stands for goes against every political fibre and bone in their body. The NHS scarcely aligns itself with any conservative values. There is not a single ideological reason why a Tory MP wouldn’t want to rip the NHS apart like a vulture, in favour of a uber capitalist, free market shambles for which we will all pay the price.

Inspired by the Liz Truss school of A-level economics, Jacob-Rees Mogg would feel high and mighty as he removed the NHS flag from last publicly owned hospital, replacing it instead with a Union Jack boasting the free market’s best offers. Buy one get one free on cancer treatment for the over 70s! Six Insulin shots for the price of five! “Oh goodie!” the children will shout, as they see they might be able to afford an inhaler for this month after being bankrupt from their last asthma attack.

As satirical as it may seem now, a future where we pay extortionate prices for basic health care is closer than we may believe. Recently, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refused to answer whether he was registered with a GP. Days later, he claimed he was. He must have just “forgotten” at first. This isn’t the first time Sunak’s forgetfulness has been on show, as he seemingly also often forgets that he is Prime Minister.

If our own Prime Minister is so clearly in favour of private health care, it’s not a far leap to suggest the implementation of such a system on a nationwide scale. It would be wrong to pretend that saving the NHS will take anything other than years of thorough, significant investment: to train new doctors and nurses, build new facilities, and clear backlogs of more than seven million people. This, of course, will cost tens of billions of pounds. But can you really put a price on life itself?

If the NHS has taught us anything in the last 70 years, it’s that it works. We shouldn’t forget that. The NHS bought me in to this world and I for one intend for it to look after me on the way out of it too. In the next few months and years, we will have to fight for it and unfortunately, I imagine at times, see it slowly get whittled away into the private sector.

When this happens, we shouldn’t see it as a sign of a losing battle – if anything, quite the opposite. It should be seen as a sign to say “no more”. A sign to stand up for an institution which has protected us for generations. The NHS helped give all of us the gift of life, it’s now time we repay the favour.

It’s important to be angry. I certainly am. The choice to underfund the NHS was conscious. Your suffering is legislated for. If you’re not angry you should be. If you’re yet to be affected, you’re lucky. Act now, before it’s too late.

Jake Aldridge

Jake Aldridge

Deputy Investigations Editor 23/24

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