In 2011 the NHS was lauded as the best health service in the developed world in a study by the Commonwealth Fund in terms of cost, efficiency and patient satisfaction. It has taken less than a decade for Conservative governments to run the service into ground through a deliberate strategy of defunding under the guise of ‘efficiency savings’ and private sector take overs which enable companies such as Virgincare, Serco and Circle to profit from patients’ illness.
The most recent revelation published following a freedom of information request is the record levels of cancellations of surgical procedures in 2018. 78,981 patients were turned away last year alone due to non-clinical reasons such as a lack of beds, shortage of staff and lack of functioning equipment.
But this is just one failing amongst so many which has left us almost desensitised to the phrase “NHS in Crisis”.
Under this government and coalition government before it, we’ve had the largest sustained reduction in healthcare funding since the NHS was founded as a percentage of GDP. We have had ward closures resulting in a loss of 14,463 beds, 10% of the total, which Simon Stevens the head of NHS England (who quite tellingly presided over UnitedHealth Group, a giant US private healthcare company prior to taking on his NHS role) finally admitted had gone too far and that hospital beds are now “overly pressurised” due to his years of closures.
The same can be said of cuts to the work force which have left wards dangerously understaffed. Ten years of austerity and attacks on NHS staff working conditions have left the service with 100,000 posts left unfilled - including 40,000 nurses and 10,000 hospital doctors short resulting in unsafe conditions for our patients and a reported 58% of NHS workers doing unpaid extra hours every single week to keep the service afloat. Removal of the NHS Bursary which campaigners warned would exacerbate the recruitment crisis in nursing resulted in a 30% reduction in the number applying to study nursing since 2016.
The service is also short of 7000 GPs with GP surgery closures across the UK reaching an all-time high in 2018, affecting an estimated half a million patients according to research by the medical website Pulse. If you are struggling to access your GP or book your appointment it is because this government scrapped the 48-hour target for GP appointments whilst shutting down surgeries - not because of immigration as they would have us believe.
Boris Johnson’s claims that "The NHS is not on the table" in US-UK trade deals has been revealed to be yet another lie. Government officials are already having face-to-face meetings with representatives from the US pharmaceutical industry, about a deal involving medication price hikes that would cost the NHS billions by denying the NHS access to cheaper generic alternatives.
Working on the frontline NHS staff have watched over the past ten years as the service has been under sustained attack and there is no doubt that we are terrified of what another five years of Tory government would bring.
For this general election the stakes could not be higher: the very existence of our National Health Service is on the line because the service simply will not survive another five years of Tory rule bringing yet more crippling cuts and inefficient private sector profiteering at the expense of equitably delivered safe patient care. The fight to defend the NHS is one that every generation must take on or we risk losing it forever – voting to rid ourselves of a Tory government is the single most important thing that we can do to safeguard our NHS and keep it working in the interests of our patients.
Dr Mona Kamal