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While You #ClapForOurCarers, Remember the Tory Cuts That Have Brought the NHS to the Brink

Clapping for NHS Heroes Is Hypocrisy From Those Who Support Tory Austerity

Another Thursday in lockdown and another Thursday that we will be encouraged to “Clap for our Carers” by the very same people in the Tory government who have led the nation into disaster. Boris Johnson will no doubt enthusiastically clap at the door of Number Ten as he and the media become ever more determined to cover his incompetence and criminality with a blanket of nationalism, portraying the struggle against the coronavirus as a national effort where heroes make justifiable sacrifices and we all pull together, singing along to Vera Lynn as we get out in the fields and dig potatoes.

The truth, however, is that Johnson and the Conservative government have been nothing short of criminal in their actions, not only in the immediate weeks and months proceeding COVID-19 but ever since coming to power in 2010.

While the Conservative government continually state that there have been no cuts to frontline services before the outbreak of COVID-19, the truth is that the NHS budget has been cut with essential services axed, including disaster planning. The separation of the budget for public health, education and training, capital and national bodies from the NHS England budget in 2015 paved the way.

Pandemic Preparation Cut

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic that has devastated Britain, with the official death toll now standing at 30,076 and believed to be much, much higher, the most shocking cuts have come to the country’s preparedness for such a scenario.

The devastating Sunday Times investigation into the government’s actions in the run-up to the COVID-19 outbreak laid bare how austerity and cuts have devastated the nation’s readiness for a major catastrophe. Speaking with scientists, academics, doctors, emergency planners, public officials and politicians, The Sunday Times report found that stockpiles of PPE were either in short supply or out of date and training of key workers was on hold for two years in anticipation of contingency for no-deal Brexit.

“We were the envy of the world but pandemic planning became a casualty of the austerity years when there were more pressing needs.”

The Times source

The last time that a major pandemic was war-gamed in 2016, the findings were that the NHS would collapse through a lack of PPE and ventilators. A list of recommendations to improve the situation were ignored. Despite the documented need for PPE, no effort was made to procure gowns and face masks even at the last opportunity, the government instead sending over 250,000 items from the PPE stockpile to China.

Despite warnings from scientists even way before 2016 that a major pandemic was a near certainty, the Conservative government rejected urgent proposals that they stockpile PPE as a contingency for pandemics, judging that the plan was too expensive. The Department of Health under the leadership of Jeremy Hunt told medical advisors to reconsider their position that PPE be provided to all healthcare professionals in case of a major influenza outbreak, the advice was subsequently being “watered down” after an economic assessment of the proposal.

Such was the level of cuts to the stock of PPE that its value fell by 40% in just 6 years, being worth £325 million less than in 2013 through lack of replacement and sales.

This program of austerity and inadequate funding has become the new norm for the NHS, however.

Essential Services Cut

The budget for essential public health services in now a staggering £850 million lower than in 2015/16 and the Tories have planned that by next year the budget will be 25% of what it was in 2015/16. Cuts that have been made include programs to combat drug and alcohol addiction, poor sexual health, obesity and anti-smoking initiatives, all which will ensure further strain on the NHS in the future as the service provides healthcare to those who otherwise would have made important lifestyle changes.

A survey revealed that 90% of all councils had their public health budget cut, with over half of doctors surveyed reporting cuts to weight and alcohol services, with just under half equally stating that they had lost services surrounding smoking and sexual health. Between 2013/14 and 2017/18, total local authority spending on sexual health services fell by 14%. Cuts to anti-smoking programs saw a fall of £20m, falling from £120.6m in 2016/17 to £99.8m in 2018.

While the Tories talk big on the NHS, under the veneer of “boosting” the NHS budget, plans laid out in 2018 revealed that there would be over a £1 billion of cuts to public health, with the brunt of the cuts affecting the most deprived areas in the country. In June of last year, The Health Foundation and the King’s Fund issued a joint statement urging the Tories to “make a clear and urgent commitment to restoring £1bn of real-terms per head cuts to the public health grant.”

It is no coincidence that the North West, inner cities and BAME communities have been hit hardest by COVID-19, with perpetual poverty, cuts to medical services and a decade of austerity ravaging the population. An investigation into the resulting effects of austerity cuts found that they disproportionately affect the most deprived areas, with absolute cuts being a criminal six times larger than those seen in the least deprived areas.

“Almost £1 in every £7 cut from public health services has come from England’s ten most deprived communities – compared to just £1 in every £46 in the country’s ten least deprived places. The total, absolute cuts in the poorest places have thus been six times larger than in the least deprived.”

IPPR

Amongst those communities hid hardest by NHS austerity, children and the youth have particularly suffered, with massive reductions to young people’s services a part of £50.5m cuts made in 2016-17 across 77 local authorities. These shocking levels of reduction were highlighted as a matter of urgency by doctors just last year.

The Health Foundation has reported that instead of cuts, the public health grant actually needs significant investment, with at least £3 billion a year more needed to both reverse the significant impact of existing cuts and reallocate resources to deprived areas that have suffered the devastation of Tory austerity.

NHS Staff Face Their Own Austerity

It isn’t only NHS services that face the full force of Tory austerity and hypocrisy, with NHS staff long being maligned by the government, going as far as to openly cheer when MPs denied nurses a much-needed pay rise.

Following the 2017 Queen’s speech, a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour proposed an amendment that called for the public sector pay cap of 1% to be lifted for nurses in the NHS. In all, 323 MPs voted down the proposal, 313 from the Tories and 10 from the DUP. They included Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock.

The average salary for a nurse has fallen since 2010 by 8% based on the consumer prices index (CPI) – or by £2,646 in real terms, according to the Royal College of Nurses (RCN). This hardship is only compounded by the plans announced by Boris Johnson to increase the yearly surcharge for all non-EU migrant workers by more than 50%, this vile and extortionate charge rising from £400 to £625. Payable by all members of a family, the charge for any worker with children could run into thousands of pounds.

In 2019, the Lib Dems revealed figures that showed 5,000 nurses had already left the NHS since the Brexit referendum, with figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council showing that the numbers of nurses incoming from the EU fell from 6,382 in 2016-17 to just 805 in 2017-18.

“International staff are expected to pay twice for the very services they keep running – the government should remove this immoral immigration health surcharge for nursing staff without delay. Across the UK, health and care services were already missing tens of thousands of nurses before this began – making this unprecedented challenge even more difficult to face. When this pandemic is over and pay negotiations begin, ministers must remember the dedication and sacrifice that was on display – properly rewarding staff will begin to address the long-term shortages in the nursing workforce.”

Donna Kinnair, RCN chief executive 

As of 2020, the Royal College of Nursing says there are 40,000 vacancies for nurses.

Selling the NHS

The piecemeal dismantling of the NHS is merely the tip of the iceberg as far as the Tories plans for the service go, with reports last year revealing that wholesale privatisation was on the cards in the forthcoming UK-US Brexit trade deal talks.

Alex Azar, the US Health and Human Services Secretary stated quite clearly in 2018 that the U.S. would be using their muscle to hike drug prices around the world to lower them domestically for American patients.

“On the foreign side, we need to, through our trade negotiations and agreements, pressure them and so we pay less, they pay more. It shouldn’t be a one-way ratchet. We all have some skin in this game. The reason why they are getting better net prices than we get is their socialised system.”

Alex Axar

Channel 4’s Dispatches revealed that talks took place between senior civil servants and representatives of the big American pharmaceutical companies, both on and off the record. These meetings, surrounding price hikes for drugs supplied to the NHS, took place in both London and Washington as late as last August.

In November, Jeremy Corbyn revealed a dossier that showed the NHS would be “on the table and will be up for sale,” in the forthcoming trade talks.

“We’ve now got evidence that under Boris Johnson the NHS is on the table and will be up for sale. He tried to cover it up in a secret agenda but today it’s been exposed… We are talking here about secret talks for a deal with Donald Trump after Brexit. A deal that will shape our country’s future. These reports pull back on the curtain on the secrecy that’s being plotted for us all, behind closed doors, by the Conservative government. This is what they didn’t want you to know”

Jeremy Corbyn

It was also before the election that Labour proposed an amendment to the 2019 Queen’s Speech to protect the NHS from price hikes and privatisation, that amendment being defeated after the Liberal Democrats disgracefully abstained from voting.

The concern that the Tories will offer the NHS on a silver platter to Donald Trump has not gone away despite the NHS’ efforts during the COVID-19 outbreak, with Jeremy Corbyn once again being one of the few lone voices warning of the Tory government’s intentions.

For ten years the Conservative government has implemented a program of austerity on the British public and essential services, causing the NHS to be underfunded and understaffed as they refuse to pay key workers the wages they deserve. Their decisions to continue with these programs in the face of urgent calls from scientists and advisors surrounding the nation’s readiness for a pandemic is nothing short of criminal.

Instead of facing the justice that they deserve for this incompetence, this government looks set to press ahead with further and even harsher measures of austerity in the future as they attempt to prop up a failed economy and a failed system. This austerity and program of future cuts will undoubtedly involve yet more cuts to the NHS and even the privatisation of key aspects of the service in forthcoming trade talks with the international pariah that is becoming the United States under Donald Trump.

These forthcoming actions against the NHS must not only be resisted, they must be stopped and reversed, alongside this government’s entire policy of austerity that has not only brought misery to millions of citizens up and down the country but brought levels of disease, death and disaster that are unseen in generations.

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