"In this election, we must put all candidates in a position where they are either backing our NHS or being shown up to their local communities as a threat to it."
Nye Bevan, the founder of our NHS, is often quoted as saying that “the NHS will last as long as there’s folk with faith left to fight for it.” If you’re reading this, it’s because you are one of those people with the faith to fight for our NHS. At the end of this article, I will tell you how you can fight for our NHS today.
Every general election, politicians tell us ‘this is the most important election of our lifetimes’. And whether or not we’ve ever believed them, I for one can’t avoid the feeling that this time it is probably true. At least when it comes to our NHS.
After 14 years in which five prime ministers and eight health secretaries have implemented a systematic programme of underfunding, understaffing and outsourcing, our NHS, alongside the health of the nation, has never looked so weak.
However you slice it, our NHS has been significantly underfunded. BMA analysis suggests that if the NHS budget continued to grow in the last 14 years at the same rate it grew every year between 1955 and 2010, it would have received at least £322 billion more than it got.
Or look at it another way. A recent Health Foundation analysis shows that France, a country with a smaller economy than Britain, spends 21% more per person on health than the government has put into our NHS over the past decade.
The effects of this underfunding, which has then resulted in understaffing and the push for more outsourcing, are clear for all to see.
From being virtually non-existent in 2010, waiting lists now stand at a staggering 7.6 million. A recent Oxford University study linked the outsourcing of NHS services to the deaths of 557 people. In 2022, over 270,000 people paid for surgeries out of their own pockets in the private sector, which unsurprisingly coincided with the rise of “buy now, pay later” medical loans.
And just this week, we witnessed the spectacle of hundreds of people lining up for a few available NHS spots at a Bristol dentist.
But although the NHS is not working at its best for patients at the moment, it is firing on all cylinders for private for-profit companies. With the main parties talking about relying on the private sector to cut waiting lists, what is flying below the radar is that it is in fact the NHS that is helping private hospitals make huge profits.
The NHS spent over £8 billion training the doctors who provide surgeries in private hospitals. While private hospitals already cream off only the simplest and most profitable surgeries from the NHS, every month they send about 550 of their own patients back into NHS hospitals because of complications that emerged while in the private hospitals.
This is not to mention the almost £2 billion sucked out of the NHS in PFI profits in the last 17 years.
What these examples show us is that while private hospitals are happy to privatise their profits, their business model, which enables them to make huge profits, is to socialise their staff training, emergency services, and other costs. They make the profit, the NHS carries the costs.
It has never been clearer that we need to fight for our NHS. It quite realistically might not be able to survive another 5 years of the health policies of the last 14. This election is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fight for an NHS that is properly funded and works for people, not profit.
The NHS is a key election issue. Right now we have a short window of opportunity to shape election manifestos and show political candidates that ending privatisation and protecting our NHS as a fully public service is a priority for voters. We can make sure the next crop of MPs that enter the Commons go there having promised us that they will fight for our NHS.
We’re not naive, politicians don’t always do what they promise, but they hardly ever do good things that they didn’t promise. That’s why we must push for bold and specific commitments to end wasteful outsourcing, fund our NHS in line with the rest of Europe, and protect it for future generations. That is why We Own It has launched our Pledge for the NHS.
Pledge for the NHS demands all parliamentary candidates standing at this year’s general election support three policies:
- Reinstate the Health Secretary’s legal duty to provide healthcare to all
- Give the NHS £40 billion more per year to catch up with equivalent European countries
- Bring services outsourced to for-profit companies back into the NHS as their contracts end
You can demand your local candidates take the Pledge for the NHS in less than 2 minutes using We Own It’s tool.
Politicians are working extra hard to force us to lower our expectations. They are taking huge sums from the private healthcare sector, and they are pursuing more ideological privatisation in our NHS.
But if our only option is to throw our hands up and do nothing, then we might as well just give up our NHS – which I know we are not prepared to do.
But even more hopeful than that, this general election provides us with a lever to pile pressure on politicians and begin to change the narrative. In this election, we must put all candidates in a position where they are either backing our NHS or being shown up to their local communities as a threat to it. And that means each and every one of us taking action.
Johnbosco Nwogbo is lead campaigner at We Own It