Sunak’s inevitable trajectory from ‘whatever NHS needs’ to ‘booster jabs will mean cuts’ exposes conservative party default position on the NHS, writes John Lister, editor of Health Campaigns Together
Rishi Sunak, the Tory chancellor whose 2021 Spending Review in November set the NHS on course for a second decade of decline, is now warning that the limited NHS budget will not cover the extra costs of booster jabs for the latest variant of Coronavirus.
And while further tightening the financial straitjacket on the NHS that has effectively frozen real terms funding since 2010 while the population, its health needs and cost pressures have grown, Sunak is, according to a recent Spectator article, also leading a cabal of cabinet ministers who are critical of the NHS itself – and, according to the Financial Times, involved in meetings with US health corporation bosses.
Systematically starving the NHS of the revenue it needs to sustain services and the capital it needs to repair and renew hospitals and equipment has emerged as the main driver of privatisation. Desperate NHS bosses lacking the capacity they need to cope with rising demand have been forced to turn to private hospitals to supply extra beds, contractors to supply cataract and other routine operations, imaging services, laboratory services and mental healthcare.
The extra costs and inefficiencies of this fragmented system pile further pressures back on the NHS – while the private sector, which trains no staff, can only expand by recruiting from the limited pool of NHS-trained staff.
Now Sunak has reportedly warned Health Secretary Sajid Javid that additional spending on vaccination – the Government’s preferred and only strategy to combat the virus – will have to be paid for, either by cutting spending elsewhere or by raising taxes. The recent socially regressive ‘levy’, raising National Insurance payments from even the lowest-paid to raise £36bn for health and care services over 3 years, has already made it clear that Sunak has no intention of taxing the rich to raise any additional funds.
According to a Daily Mail report, the Chancellor warned Javid and health officials that ‘people would feel the effects of [any additional extra] spending in NHS and household budgets’.
Estimates suggest that six-monthly vaccinations could cost an extra £5bn a year; but no such extra cost has been factored in to Sunak’s tight-fisted allocations to the NHS up to 2025.
Indeed it appears that Sunak and the Treasury, eager to recoup its £200m investment in the Vaccine Manufacturing Innovation Centre at Harwell near Oxford, is the force behind the efforts to sell it off to a private corporation, jeopardising its potential future role in pioneering new vaccines and saving lives.
The Chancellor that previously promised the NHS would get ’whatever it needs’ to fight Covid-19 is now apparently consorting with US health bosses and seeking any avenue to undermine and carve up the NHS and public sector.
This is happening in the midst of a pandemic that has exposed to all the abject failure of private contractors, most notably in Test and Trace and in PPE procurement, and the inadequacy of private hospitals to fill in for lack of NHS provision.
The fight by the new SOSNHS campaign for the resources needed to restore and expand NHS capacity has to focus on the need for the Government both to fully fund ALL additional costs of fighting Covid, and also for them to tear up the 2021 Spending Review and allocate at least £10bn additional capital plus increased revenue funding to the NHS in the Spring Budget.
Find out more about SOS NHS here – and our other demands for saving the NHS from its worst ever crisis.