Stealth and health – the next big battle

There’s a lot we can learn from the treatment of our health and social care staff and the derisory 1% pay award being considered for front line workers.

Without the NHS, and without the professionalism and dedication of its staff, the outcome of the Covid pandemic, horrendous as it has been, would have been much worse.

The work they have done and the results they have achieved, including the outstanding roll out of the vaccination programme, has been acknowledged in popular support and sustained applause.

But despite their rhetoric and the public commitments to supporting the NHS that respect and adulation has not been matched by government actions.

That’s not entirely surprising. From the earliest days of the NHS the Tory party,  in particular, has been committed to undermining and dismantling the health service as we know it, as it has with much of the welfare state initiatives brought in after the second world war.

Sentimentality, it seems, plays no part in strategic projects like privatising healthcare.

You won’t find it in their election manifestos, it wont be admitted publicly, but  privatising the NHS is a policy that sits comfortably with Tory ideology and with the mindsets of many local parties – including those who claim otherwise.

Privatisation by stealth is probably the best description of what is happening and ironically the pressures of the pandemic and the way in which the NHS has responded has left it more vunerable.

Up to £10bn is being made available in England to buy treatment from private providers so that the NHS can clear the backlog of diagnostic tests and treatments that have built up during the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than half a million people in England now have their primary healthcare provided by private GP consortiums funded by American health insurance companies.

Hiving off NHS services bit by bit to the private sector is creeping privatisation. It is privatisation by stealth.

The second line of threat is equally covert. The longer that waiting lists become, and that is a particular problem in Northern Ireland, the more that people with the means to pay for private healthcare will do so.

Deliberately underfunding the NHS has the effect of accelerating privatisation.

Refusing to recognise the contribution and worth of its staff, by offering a 1% pay award for example, will further demoralise a dedicated workforce and contribute to a potential workforce exodus to better paid and less stressful employment.

Overcoming Covid 19 is a battle that will be won eventually with the help of the NHS and its staff. The battle to save the NHS may prove to be an even bigger task. We should prepare for that now.

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