Skip to content

NHS SOS

10/13/2013

NHS SOS

So, here we go again. Another week and another attack on NHS staff with the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt questioning the affordability of a proposed 1% pay rise for NHS staff next year. This comes less than two years after the “gold plated” pensions of NHS staff were hammered and staff told that they were also unaffordable. Roughly two-thirds of the NHS budget is spent on staff and they are the service’s most important asset. You’d think that at a time when NHS staff are being asked to work harder in an attempt to squeeze yet more “efficiency savings” from the system that it would make sense to reward them appropriately. What is it we keep getting told about bankers? That we need to keep paying them loads otherwise they’ll head abroad? Sadly the same maxim doesn’t apply to NHS staff. It’s “pay restraint” and productivity for us.

Hunt went on to suggest that funding a 1% pay rise would compromise patient safety, a comment which disgusts me. Yes, as a proud NHS worker of some twenty two years, if I thought a pay rise would in any way compromise the health service’s ability to deliver the highest quality service to patients then I would happily forego any increase. The truth, though, is very different. To claim that a pay rise is unaffordable is simply a lie. And to link the issue to the safety of patients is, at best, blackmail.

It’s estimated that a 1% pay rise for the health service’s 1.3 million workforce would cost in the region of £500 million with an additional £700 million required to fund annual incremental pay awards. Yet, in 2011-12 the NHS handed £2 billion back to the Treasury as a result of under spending. In addition, since the Health and Social Care Act was enabled in 2012 the ongoing privatisation of services has, so far, stripped an estimated £1.1 billion out of the health service in the form of profits to shareholders. Similarly the Private Finance Initiative continues to leech hundreds of millions from the health service each year and expenditure on management consultants continues apace.

In the last week HM Revenue and Customs announced that the amount of tax lost through non-payment and avoidance rose to £35 billion in 2011-12 (up from £34 billion the previous year). Mark Serwotka, the leader of the Public and Commercial Services union that represents HMRC staff, reckons that this greatly underestimates the extent of uncollected tax and says that research by his union suggests a truer figure of £120 billion. Either way, these are huge amounts at the same time that, incredibly, staff numbers at the HMRC are being cut. It demonstrates that the questioning of the affordability of a pay rise for NHS staff is merely a smokescreen for a wider ideological assault on the health service.

The damage wrought by last year’s Health and Social Care Act is dissected brilliantly in Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis’s superb book NHS SOS published earlier this year. It’s impossible to read more than a few pages of this eye opening critique of the NHS reforms without feeling angry at the betrayal of the NHS by those we entrust with its welfare. It’s written by a number of top medical professionals, academics and NHS campaigners and is a strident call to arms to save the NHS. Indeed, simply by purchasing the book you are helping this cause as all profits go to the Keep Our NHS Public campaign. My only slight criticism of the book is that because there are several contributors (each chapter has a different author) it can be a little repetitive at times. But in some ways this is also useful in emphasising the key messages.

NHS SOS argues that the enactment of last year’s Health and Social Care Act represented a failure of democracy. Prior to the 2010 general election the Tories had argued that there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS, yet that’s exactly what we got. Indeed, the NHS Chief Executive David Nicholson famously described the reforms as big enough to see from space. None of us voted for these changes.

The book also highlights the failure of medical professionals (with the exception of the Royal College of General Practitioners’ leader Clare Gerada), trade unions and the media to challenge the Health and Social Care bill. Many medical professionals seemed to fall for the argument that the introduction of General Practitioner led commissioning would put clinicians in charge of the purse strings. Too often the media, with notable exceptions, simply trotted out the Coalition government’s line on the reforms without challenging it. And any form of protest passed with barely a mention.

NHS Manchester demo 29-09-13

Of course, the shambolic media coverage of the NHS reforms continues. A couple of weeks ago more than 50,000 people from all over the country gathered in Manchester to protest at the Tory conference about the destruction of the NHS. There were no big-name photogenic Hollywood actors or members of Blur present, this was simply ordinary members of the public exercising their right to protest at the assault on a much-loved institution. Sadly, in amongst the mentions of weightier matters such as Tess Daly’s latest outfit and Simon Cowell’s baby you could be forgiven for completely missing it. It passed with barely a mention on the licence-fee funded BBC news who neglected to mention the reason for the protest and chose instead to remark on the shouts of “Tory scum” by a small minority of demonstrators, an insult to the vast majority of the people on the march.

NHS SOS concludes with a chapter entitled “what you can do to save the NHS” and looks at the practical steps we can all take to protect the health service. Even if going on a march or demonstration isn’t really your thing, there are simple tasks that we can all do, such as writing to local MPs, challenging any changes to local services that aren’t in the best interests of patients, or supporting Britain’s fastest growing political party the National Health Action party. The party is led by Clive Peedell, a cancer specialist from Middlesbrough’s James Cook University Hospital and one of the leading campaigners against the Tory reforms. At the 2015 general election, the NHA party aims to have a candidate standing in the seat of every MP who voted in favour of the reforms.

If you or a family member have ever had to use the services of the NHS or you have even a passing interest in one of Britain’s most cherished institutions I urge you to grab a copy of this book, read it, get angry and act now before the NHS as we know it disappears for good.

Advertisements

From → NHS

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: