NHS Birthday: The NHS is in crisis. Here’s what we need to do.

This article was first published in Scottish Socialist Voice edition 652.

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By Richie Venton, SSP Workplace Organiser

NHS Birthday: THE NHS IS 73 this month. It was the biggest and best application of socialist principles in British history; universal provision regardless of income, funded by general taxation. But it’s being systematically undermined and dismantled, just at a time when it’s most needed, in the face of lingering, mutating Coronaviruses, on top of a multitude of other physical and mental illnesses.

Great chunks of it are being hived off to profiteers, particularly by the Tories. Privatisation is rampant and rising, including in Scotland, where the new Edinburgh Children’s and Young People’s hospital is an example of building through profit-motivated consortia, leading to outrageous delays and ballooning costs to the public.

Failures in its drainage and ventilation systems delayed its opening, currently costing the public £1million-a-month as it sits shut, for a hospital built under the SNP version of PFI, which will cost the public over half a billion pounds in handouts to management companies over the next 25 years. These are 21st century leeches, sucking the NHS dry for private profit.

The Pharmaceutical Leeches

Big Pharma is on the top of the pile of profiteers who’ve profited, enormously, from the devastating pandemic that’s robbed at least 3.5 million people of their lives. These super-profitable pharmaceutical companies make sickening piles of money for a handful of shareholders at the expense of an NHS which is on its knees with the cost of functioning.

Patients suffer from this profiteering. So do staff. And the already existing crises in Scotland’s hospitals pre-pandemic have been vastly heightened in the past year.

Under successive SNP governments since 2010, 6,000 NHS beds vanished, leading to the appalling cull of elderly people a year ago, turfed out of hospital beds for fear of the whole system being overrun by Covid cases—dumped in care homes untested, or often after testing positive with Covid-19—adding to the cruel, lonely litany of deaths in those profit-driven, privately-owned homes, ill-equipped or totally unequipped for holding back the killer virus amongst staff and residents.

Planned Poverty Amidst Plenty

Austerity measures—a.k.a. planned poverty in a rich country!— have savaged staffing levels, adding to stress and burnout, before and during the Coronavirus. The fact that a full one-fifth of all nurses in Scotland are aged over 55 is in itself a looming catastrophe, as government failures to recruit adequate numbers (on attractive wages and conditions) means a huge hole in experience is about to open up, as these workers retire. Likewise, retention of staff is undermined by under-staffing, under-payment and undervaluation of these frontline workers. A frightening 38 per cent are considering leaving the NHS, according to the latest RCN survey.

And it’s set to get even worse, after the experiences of 2020. New, official government figures have been unearthed by the Sunday Mail, showing there are 3,606 unfilled vacancies in NHS Scotland’s wards, with suppression of pay adding fuel to this explosive mix.

NHS Whistle-Blower Tells Ugly Truth

Nor do we need to rely on these bald, indisputable facts alone. An NHS worker in the giant Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow has blown the whistle on the impact.

She has remained anonymous in fear of being sacked for exposing the horrible truth about under-staffing and the widespread burnout suffered by NHS workers being a threat to patients’ lives. “It was really tough at the height of the pandemic, with people off sick or having to isolate, but we knuckled down to care for people in a national emergency, risking our own lives and often hardly seeing our families.

“But as things improve with Covid-19, it has highlighted how threadbare and under-resourced we are. I see nurses going home in tears. People are completely burnt out with worry for patients, because they don’t feel they can give the attention they need and deserve, because there aren’t enough staff.

“There is no doubt in my mind this is putting patients’ lives at risk. The nightmare scenario is that a frail or elderly patient dies because they fall, or a change in their condition is missed. “We rarely have a full shift of staff.

There should be eight nurses but more often than not we are operating with five or six, at most. It means you can have two nurses, one of whom could be a trainee, looking after 28 patients.

“I am furious we have been told by hospital management not to raise these issues through the Datix software system for reporting incidents.

“Why should we wait for something really serious to happen?”

Nationalise Big Pharma

This looming catastrophe is an affront to the founding principles of the NHS, and the socialist principles of those who fought for it amidst the economic mayhem following World War Two.

All those governments and parties who seek to uphold or justify a system where giant pharmaceutical companies make sickening profits; consortia of bankers and venture capitalists leech off provision of new hospitals; and the imperious demands for ever greater profit for the few means cuts to staff, pay, bed spaces and community healthcare, have the blood of innocents on their hands

Mobilise For a Fully-Funded, Democratic NHS

Those NHS workers with the courage to be a whistle-blower, or to battle for adequate funding, decent pay, and emergency increases in staffing levels, are genuinely saving lives. But they must not be left standing alone.

The weight of the entire workers’ movement needs to be wielded in action to demand reversal of decades of horrendous cuts in the name of ‘austerity’, with a serious demand for cancellation of all existing PFI-style contracts, and nationalisation of Big Pharma, to integrate research and the supply of drugs into a democratically managed NHS.

Then we could celebrate the birth of the NHS, with emergency recruitment and training of staff, on decent pay, and a 4-day week to tackle the epidemic of stress, burnout and unfilled vacancies that really do pose a threat to the continued existence of the NHS and the lives of patients.