The NHS is constantly rated among voters’ top priorities, yet the truth about the desperate state it is in remains largely hidden from the public.
As the election draws near we have the usual Conservative lies making headlines – more money, more hospitals, more GPs – all delivered through some sickening staged photo opportunity of Mr Johnson with a hospital chief executive. In the era of viral memes and fake news it seems not to matter if you lie, as long as you lie loudest.
Let me be clear: these empty promises are nothing more than a veil with which the government is trying to disguise the state of the nation’s health.
The issues I come across in my practice are not just from ten years of underfunding of the NHS, but the symptoms of ten years of nationwide austerity. Medicine is a holistic art, and we talk about treating the bio-psycho-social picture. Cuts to public health, education, workers’ rights and the welfare state all have an impact on the nation’s health.
As per usual, it is the most vulnerable of my patients that feel the biggest impact. The father who has to choose between selling his bike and being able to provide lunch for his son. The mother unable to afford the bus fare to bring her son to a hospital appointment. The teenager left to die in hospital because the council is unable to find social housing to discharge him for his last few months of life. This is the reality of Britain after ten years of Tory rule.
The question is simple: is this the society we want to live in?
Austerity equals a rise in inequality. “We’re all in this together,” we were told. Yet while the wealth of the country continues to be concentrated among the richest, the poorest among us are subjected to a reversal in life expectancy and an increase in child mortality. Austerity is estimated to have cost around 130,000 lives. This, in a country with one of the highest GDPs in the world.
Day in, day out, I see first hand the realities of what it means to break down the social fabric of our state. That is why – after working a 13-hour shift without a break – I am writing this article, and why I will spend my days off this weekend canvassing with the local Labour party.
The neglected state of the health service is being used as an excuse to hand out lucrative private contracts. Yet the news last week of a private mental health facility in Derby being closed to new patients – having been found to be unsafe after a patient committed suicide – is evidence of the problems with introducing market forces into the NHS. The report found that 75% of staff were not adequately trained for the care they were providing within the facility.
Cutting corners to increase shareholder profits, it turns out, costs lives. Cygnet – the company that owned the facility – reported profits of £334m in 2018. For those who pay attention, this is a familiar story for privately run services. Circle, the company notorious for handing back Hitchingham Hospital in 2015, has been trying to sue Rushcliffe Clinical Commissioning Group (the primary care body) after losing out on a contract to the local NHS hospital. Circle’s argument is that the NHS cannot possibly run the service for less than the private provider due to the fact that NHS staff have “improved NHS benefits”.
That’s right, when private health companies aren’t driving down the standard of patient care, it’s staff’s sick pay and pensions they rip off. The NHS remaining ‘free at the point of care’ doesn’t mean it isn’t being privatised, and these behind-the-scenes private contracts end up costing us more; increasingly diverting funds away from patient care towards costly legal cases and complicated tendering bids.
Moreover, patients’ data is now being used in drug trials by multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies and by private tech firms to develop the latest AI technology, only for this technology to be sold back at a profit. Benefits and profits derived from NHS data should be delivered back to service users: not Cygnet, not Circle, not Serco, not GSK, and not Richard Branson.
On 12 December, I urge all my patients to vote against the dismantling of the NHS, and to vote against turning the NHS into a profit-driven empire for the super rich. Because the real shareholders in the NHS are the public who use it, and the only way we can deliver the health service we want to see is by voting for real change.
Joanna Dobbin is a junior doctor and member of the Migrant Solidarity Group.