70 Years Of NHS: The Tories ran our health services down to privatise them next

In the first of a series celebrating the NHS 70th anniversary, Keep Our NHS Public campaigner Samantha Wathen explains how the Tories are hellbent on abolishing our "national religion".

This Saturday thousands will come together to celebrate 70 years of our National Health Service.

Crowds will convene at Portland Place in London at 12pm to stand up for a service that is often referred to as our national religion.

Organised by Health Campaigns Together (with Keep Our NHS Public), The People’s Assembly and eleven health unions, this demonstration will be both a celebration and a protest against significant and sustained underfunding and the increasing privatisation we are now seeing in what was always intended to be a publicly owned and publicly provided service.

The 1.3 million NHS staff are some of the most talented in the world and deserve to work in an environment that recognises and rewards their efforts.

Yet, far from being rewarded for 70 years of effort, this institution and the amazing staff that work in it are under threat. Successive Conservative governments have done untold damage to our health service for nearly a decade.

Since 2010 the NHS has been underfunded and understaffed to a critical extent.

Over the last eight years we have ‘lost’ 16,000 hospital beds and the NHS staff vacancy rate now stands at 100,000.

Over 500 GP surgeries have closed since 2010. A&E targets have not been met since July 2015, with those waiting longer than 4 hours increasing by a staggering 842%. There are over 4 million patients on surgical waiting lists, and the number of those waiting over two weeks for urgent cancer care has more than doubled since 2012.

It could certainly be asserted that running the NHS down in order to create fertile ground for privatisation is a deliberate plan and indeed this is increasingly being recognised by the wider public.

The argument that we cannot afford our NHS is a falsehood. It was established in 1948 during the aftermath of a world war. If we could afford it then, we can certainly afford it now. Health investment gives a four-fold payback to the economy: it shouts out economic sense.

It is easy to despair when faced with these facts but Keep Our NHS Public are among many campaigning to bring about positive change, and results can be effective.

The recent funding announcement falls below what is required, yet without the pressure exerted by campaigners there may have been no funding announcement at all.

As Dr Tony O’Sullivan, retired paediatrician and co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public said:

“May’s announcement of 3.4% per year funding is a response to intense pressure (including from campaigners), but papers over the reality. 3.4% is in fact 3% when the cuts to public health, education and research are included. It will be eaten up by the £3-4bn running deficit hidden by treasury loans, when it has to pay for the NHS pay deal. Fails to fund eight years of damage and does nothing to halt the wasted funds haemorrhaging to private sector interests.“

In 2016 £10 billion were promised. However, after various factors were taken into consideration, that figure was reduced to around £800 million in real terms. Currently this incentive is merely words and without a firm and credible plan in place means little.

Our NHS is 70 but this isn’t a celebration, it’s a publicity stunt.

This government seems fundamentally intent on unpicking the founding vision of the NHS for its own selfish ends and, far from preserving life, squanders it unnecessarily in the pursuit of austerity and of privatisation.

As the NHS approaches its 70th birthday we must be continually mindful of their agenda and continue to maintain pressure if we are to see many more happy birthdays to come.

Samantha Wathen is a health campaigner and the press and media officer for Keep Our NHS Public.

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