The NHS is being torn from those who have cherished it for decades

At a recent meeting the other day I was asked how I felt about Brexit. I replied angry, but I could have added “ashamed” and “disillusioned” and “cheated” out of the country’s future. Did I fight strongly enough for the “In” or “remain” campaign? I had a poster up, surely, but who read it or took any notice? The same feelings are in many doctors who knew the NHS in it’s pomp, when it really did exist and work.  Technology is advancing faster than the states ability to cope, so we have to challenge Aneurin Bevan and see how the ideology needs to change from 1948… The EU leaders are in denial over their need to change, and the Health Services chiefs are equally in denial about the need to ration overtly. Once torn apart its much harder to reconnect.

Kailash Chand reports 20th July in the Guardian: The NHS is being torn from those who have cherished it for decades – By confirming that Jeremy Hunt stays as health secretary, Theresa May has signalled that she endorses the imposition of the unfair, unsafe junior doctors contract, a seven-day unaffordable NHS and rock bottom NHS morale.’

The NHS has just turned 68. Despite austerity, political meddling, cuts, [dis]reorganisations, years of misuse, battering and bruising and Brexit it’s still here, though gasping for breath.

A combined financial and staffing crisis could cause ongoing chaos for years and ultimately kill off the NHS for good. We have been squeezing the lemon for “efficiency savings” for years. But it is getting to the stage where there is nothing left to squeeze.

The government has closed nearly 10,000 NHS beds and 16% of A&E wards. Debt is at an all-time high, soaring numbers of sick people are waiting on trolleys in A&E, and key targets for treating cancer patients are being woefully missed. In addition, social care services have suffered a £2.6bn real-terms cut. This expected deficit could mean the loss of more than 20,000 nurses, 9,000 hospital registrars and 3,000 hospital consultants.

At each and every juncture this government has sought to blame doctors and NHS staff rather than accept the self-evident truth. Government cuts are the main cause of the NHS’s current woes.

News that Jeremy Hunt is to remain as health secretary has been greeted with surprise, disappointment and incredulity by many NHS staff. My own view is better the devil you know.

However, by confirming that Hunt stays in the post, Theresa May has signalled that she endorses the imposition of the unfair, unsafe junior doctors contract, a seven-day unaffordable NHS, rock bottom morale, and an ideologically driven privatisation of an unsafe, underfunded NHS.

The combination of Hunt remaining in post, £22bn “efficiency savings” and Brexit means grim times ahead for the NHS.

The Nuffield Trust recently looked at performance in the last parliament against six targets, covering A&E, operations, cancer and diagnostic tests. The report concluded that, the poorest performing hospitals had been getting worse on most measures for a while. But, worryingly, it said more recently performance had also started to decline in the top 10% of hospitals, particularly in terms of A&E, hospital operations and, to a lesser extent, hospital appointments.

If hospitals are struggling, general practice is in no better shape. Real-term GP funding has declined significantly and the number of unfilled GP vacancies has quadrupled.

Morale in the NHS family is at an all-time low. This is hardly surprising: four times as many staff say they suffer increased work stress, and physical assaults on NHS staff have increased by 20% since 2010. And twice as many staff report suffering bullying at work. Nurses’ pay has suffered real-terms cuts for four years and staff have been forced to accept a major downgrading of their pension benefits. In the social care sector we have seen low pay exacerbated by a rapid rise in the use of zero-hours contracts.

As it passes its 68th birthday, what is left of the NHS is just a logo; a once-cherished institution reduced from being the main provider of health services in England – with one of the biggest workforces in the world – to an increasingly fragmented, increasingly privatised service. Fewer treatments are available as cuts start to bite, with wealthier people able to “top up” treatments. Poor, old, weak and mentally challenged patients are routinely disadvantaged.

The NHS is Britain’s most civilised accomplishment. A nationwide activist movement in the US is devoted to trying to introduce an NHS-style model in their country. And yet our own government is itching to convert our NHS from a public service to a set of business opportunities for US-based transnational insurance and health provider corporations. Today’s gasping NHS is now scarcely able to make the changes it needs to because it is on the wrong path, a fast track to fragmentation and marketisation.

This is our NHS. We own it and pay for it. We have been proud of the care provided from cradle to grave. But the NHS is being torn from the caring hands that have so carefully cherished it for decades. Our NHS is being placed in the hands of accountants and businessmen who make financially driven decisions on whom profitable future contracts should be awarded to. Opening it up to an onslaught of smash and grab companies would cause money to flow out of the NHS in a method akin to death by a thousand paper cuts. Bevan would turn in his grave if he could see what the politicians are doing to his beloved NHS.

His quote is most apt today: “The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.”

Let’s fight for its survival; the NHS belongs to us, not the planners or politicians and not the privateers.


This entry was posted in A Personal View, Rationing, Stories in the Media on by .

About Roger Burns - retired GP

I am a retired GP and medical educator. I have supported patient participation throughout my career, and my practice, St Thomas; Surgery, has had a longstanding and active Patient Participation Group (PPG). I support the idea of Community Health Councils, although I feel they should be funded at arms length from government. I have taught GP trainees for 30 years, and been a Programme Director for GP training in Pembrokeshire 20 years. I served on the Pembrokeshire LHG and LHB for a total of 10 years. I completed an MBA in 1996, and I along with most others, never had an exit interview from any job in the NHS! I completed an MBA in 1996, and was a runner up for the Adam Smith prize for economy and efficiency in government in that year. This was owing to a suggestion (St Thomas' Mutual) that practices had incentives for saving by being allowed to buy rationed out services in the following year.

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