Britain's architecture of care is crumbling
As the skies lighten with the onset of spring, the leaden clouds of financial crisis continue to engulf the NHS.
To millions of UK citizens, the health service that they rely on throughout their lives is under threat — the architecture of care that has sustained them from birth to death is crumbling.
That’s why thousands of people will be marching in London tomorrow (4 March) in a demonstration of solidarity to show their support for the 69 year-old NHS.
With chancellor Philip Hammond’s first budget less than a week away, Unite, the country’s largest union with 100,000 members in the health service, is calling for the chancellor to open his cheque book next Wednesday and give the NHS the cash injection that it needs so desperately.
The winter images of patients waiting on trolleys for treatment as dedicated, but hard pressed staff struggle to cope with rising demand has been seared into the consciousness of the nation.
A first step to restore the NHS to some sort of financial health would be for the government to reverse the £22 billion of so-called ‘savings’ it has demanded by 2020. These are unrealistic and take no account of the current state of A&E departments, the growing waiting lists and increasing population.
Action also needs to be taken on the estimated £2.8 billion shortfall in local authority social care provision.
Unite is not alone in highlighting this deficit – the Local Government Association, the King’s Fund, and Nuffield Trust and The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services have all called for more than £1 billion to fund adult social care in the next year alone.
The NHS crisis and the challenges facing social care are intricately linked and it is something that even some Tories are concerned about. It was the Conservative-controlled Surrey county council that was contemplating a referendum on a 15 per cent rise in council tax to pay for social care.
It should not be forgotten that, despite the bracing economic challenges posed by Brexit, the UK remains the sixth largest economy in the world and the chancellor can take comfort from the boost in self-assessment tax receipts and a bumper flow of capital gains tax to the exchequer that has sent the government’s borrowing bill to its lowest January level in 17 years.
Philip Hammond can afford to loosen the purse strings on NHS funding – the British people expect no less having witnessed through their television and radio sets and mobile devices the plight of this much-loved institution.
But the threat to the NHS is multi-faceted and hydra-headed.
We are also concerned that private companies are gaining an ever greater foothold within the NHS and that years of pay restraint has seen the value of NHS staff salaries reduced by 14 per cent since 2010, provoking a recruitment and retention crisis across health professions.
We believe that the government’s 44 sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) in England are a smokescreen for a massive programme of hospital and community service closures, and are its latest Trojan Horse for the privatisation agenda.
And presiding over this imbroglio since 2012 is the hapless health secretary Jeremy Hunt who has failed time-and-time again to come to the aid the health service he purports to love.
For all the reasons outlined, the case for marching tomorrow to save the NHS is irrefutable.
Sarah Carpenter is Unite’s national officer for health
The Our NHS national demonstration, organised by Health Campaigns Together and the People’s Assembly, will assemble at Tavistock Square, London WC1 at noon tomorrow and then march through the capital to Parliament Square.
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