The heat of the General Election is near boiling point as the battle rages for the leadership of Britain on May 7th. A long overdue injection of political diversity in the candidates available - though all white and mostly middle class it has to be said - allied with the wide-spread pain of austerity, has opened up the spectrum of key, ‘vote-winning’ policy areas wider than has been seen in an election year for decades.
At the crux of all the major parties’ policies sits the NHS, that bastion of British civility and humanity which for nearly seventy years has provided world class healthcare on a free-at-the-point-of-delivery basis to all those in need of its services. It is the common denominator amongst all of us. While our individual lives and intricacies mean we have felt the pinch of spending cuts in a kaleidoscope of different ways, our mutual need to care for others and to be cared for by others binds us in an inextricable way. And so our love for the NHS has become the most powerful pawn in a chess game of national magnitude.
For this reason the 2015 election will be dominated by a series of lies and impossible promises from each and every party, as the present incumbents hastily twist and morph their figures to disguise the disgraceful decline in standards of care under their tenure and the posturing hopefuls spout figures dreamed up at caffeine fuelled midnight policy slumber parties.
In a world governed by capitalism and global market forces the only currency that holds weight is profit, a word that has sadly become synonymous with the NHS in recent years. Beginning with Tony Blair’s New Labour and continuing under the current coalition regime privatisation of health services has crept in like knotweed, spreading silently and barely noticed across all aspects of care systems nationwide. Where profit is the main motive standards invariably decline as corners are cut and pennies are saved to maintain the happiness of shareholders, whilst patients become increasingly seen as numbered ‘assets’ instead of people in need of medical assistance.
Adding to the burden are the effects of austerity elsewhere, as the rising cost of living and the decline of living standards puts millions of people into poverty, relying on food banks and often living in unheated homes. The long term impact of this on our young, elderly, and vulnerable is an unquantifiable amount in financial and social terms alongside the undeniable truth that the cumulative effect of austerity will be an unsustainable strain on the NHS.
The past decade has been littered with scandals from across Britain where basic levels of support and care were not available or not delivered within NHS establishments. Notably the Mid-Staffordshire Foundation Trust (half privatised at the time) and Hinchingbrooke Hospital (the first privately run hospital in Britain), both of which failed as a result of staff cuts and increasing workloads.
As the reality of five years of Conservative-Liberal Democrat leadership sinks in a quick internet search reveals catastrophic levels of dissatisfaction with the NHS, as much from within as from service users. There are reports of critical life-saving equipment being brought out of retirement in place of buying newer models, increasing numbers of patients being treated in corridors or car parks and a startling number of GP's leaving their positions citing the pressures of their roles.
This government’s flagship project was the non-emergency 111 service which has succeeded only in increasing the pressure on ambulance services, Accident & Emergency numbers and waiting times as they ignored advice from the British Medical Association and appointed non-clinically trained call handlers to direct patients to their next contact. The end result has meant nearly every call has resulted in an ambulance call out or a hospital admission, tripling and in some cases quadrupling the costs to local commissioners.
All of this is happening while NHS chief executives are receiving pay rises at a rate of six times that of nurses, meaning the people making a mess of the planning are receiving financial rewards whilst the frontline staff are lumbered with more patients and less assistance.
But there is an alternative and believe it or not this alternative worked so well for sixty years that the NHS is internationally renowned as the finest healthcare establishment ever created, providing the highest levels of care at no additional cost to the patient. The alternative is that we return our prestigious organisation to public ownership. That we invest capital into it in order that prevention programmes can be rolled out, reducing the strain for future generations and restoring the halcyon value of cooperation to the esteemed corridors of the British medical system.
Saving our NHS is not just about the preservation of a Great British institution, admirable as that may be, but involves taking stock of the bigger picture. It was said recently that in Britain we no longer have a National Health Service, a service that keeps our nation healthy, but have instead created a National Sick Service, a service that responds when we get sick. The government, whomever that may be after next month’s poll, need to understand that by funding the NHS and associated social care services they are funding a healthy, active, happy and productive future for our country and for our children.
The People's Assembly wants to raise awareness and build support for a democratic way of life by reducing austerity. We want to restore the integrated management of the NHS, under democratic control, with cooperation rather than competition as the ethos of the NHS. And we need your help to do it.
Article Written for The Peoples Assembly by Sam Davies