The crisis in the NHS has become a catastrophe. Yet the scale of the ongoing health crisis is difficult to grasp.
According to a leaked NHS England briefing, London hospitals are predicted to be “overwhelmed” by 19 January, with a shortage of up to 5,500 beds. Across the country, hospitals are at breaking point.
So acute is the lack of beds and staff that even urgent cancer operations are being cancelled. A memo from managers at the Royal London hospital said, “we are now in disaster medicine mode”.
Underpaid, overworked staff and vulnerable patients are being made to take the brunt of the Tories’ incompetent and reckless response to the pandemic.
Tories to blame
It’s no secret that the NHS was not ready for this pandemic. Although the Tories are quick to blame the new, more infectious strain of the virus, the reality is that the NHS is now straining after decades of cuts, underfunding, and privatisation.
Over 75,000 hospital beds in UK hospitals have been cut since the year 2000 – a 30% reduction. Working conditions and pay have come under attack for years, resulting in a chronic shortage of staff. Thousands have left the health sector in recent years, with none being replaced. And the Tories have been preparing the NHS for privatisation and profiteering, not for fighting pandemics such as COVID.
With 1-in-10 nursing posts vacant, and a glaring shortage of skilled nurses, we lack the manpower to effectively fight the virus. The empty and idle Nightingale hospitals are proof of this.
We will never know the exact number of lives that could have been saved had the NHS been properly prepared. But what is certain is that the Tories have blood on their hands.
What about our patients? Many planned operations have been cancelled, leaving patients to suffer at home. If they are lucky enough to be admitted, they’ll have to wait for hours in a busy A&E, while hospital wards desperately discharge patients to make beds available.
Once on a ward, their scans will take longer to be performed, and overworked nurses may struggle to give them their pain medication when they need it.
In the community, GP numbers have dropped dramatically. In some parts of the UK, only one in three GP spots are filled. This leaves those in work with longer patient lists, fewer community resources, and the difficult choice of whether or not to send a patient to the struggling local hospital.
Management’s response has been unsurprisingly feeble. We receive regular emails from our chief executive asking that we “give extra hours…work extra shifts”. Meanwhile, they sit on a comfortable six-figure salary – one which could pay the wages of six nurses!
Hands off our NHS
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed a truth that workers have known for years: the NHS is under attack. Decades of Tory (and ‘New’ Labour) rule have deprived the system of much needed resources. The result is harm to patients and excruciating inefficiency, whilst underpaid, overworked staff are made to pick up the pieces.
Meanwhile, the private health sector leeches off the NHS. Hospitals built under Private Finance Initiatives (where private sector money was used to build new hospitals) struggle with increasing debts. And billions of pounds have been handed over to dubious, Tory-friendly ‘PPE providers’.
The NHS wasn’t gifted to us by the capitalist class; nor was it the result of so-called ‘national unity’ after the horrors of World War Two. It was fought for by the labour movement, against the bitter resistance of the ruling class.
Workers’ health can never truly be safe in the hands of the capitalist state, as revealed dramatically now with the COVID crisis.
With the nationalisation of the banks, finance houses, and top 100 monopolies, we could invest the necessary resources and more into the NHS. As healthcare workers, we demand:
- A mass vaccination effort, co-ordinated by trade unions, for ALL frontline staff.
- Full nationalisation of the private healthcare sector – including private hospitals, clinics, outsourced porters and cleaners, and the whole pharmaceutical sector – without compensation.
- Replace the bloated NHS bureaucracy and fat-cat management consultants with genuine workers’ control, through workers’ committees.
- A union-led mass recruitment drive of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals, paid a fair wage, and guaranteed decent and safe working conditions.
Every day, my colleagues and patients are put at risk by a system not fit for purpose. To the Tories and private sector parasites, we say: Hands off our NHS!
Make sure you tune in to tonight's Marxist Voice broadcast, where Dr. Raj will be sharing his experience as a front-line NHS worker during the pandemic. Watch it on YouTube here: