As lockdown measures are further lifted, the NHS is under huge pressure. Numbers of Covid cases admitted to hospital are rising for a third time, and sickness and isolation levels amongst staff are again increasing.
Unlike last year, this pressure is on top of the provision of “normal” services, where, in turn, demand has escalated because of the pandemic. Waiting lists for consultant-led planned hospital treatment stand at a record high of 5.3 million, despite the restrictions on GP referrals over the last year. Last month was also the busiest ever at emergency departments across the country. The NHS two-week target for urgent cancer referrals has not been met since May 2020. All these delays will lead to serious risks for patients and a further spiralling of pressure as patients’ conditions worsen.
The pressure suits the Tories’ privatising agenda. Unmet demand opens the door to the private sector. The government’s recent £10 million deal with private hospitals was supposedly to address NHS waiting list delays. Some of those desperately needing treatment already scrape together funds, including through the hugely rising numbers of crowd-funding schemes to pay for UK based treatment.
Rationing of care is at the heart of the legal establishment of Integrated Care Systems, proposed in the Health and Care Bill, and provides the potential of creating some type of privately funded insurance scheme for healthcare. While the NHS struggles under the weight of demand the Tories continue on the road to disintegrating the service, with the aim of profiting their class.
Instead, the NHS needs an emergency plan and a massive boost of funds to maintain, restore and improve services. As part of this a publicly owned and funded social care system must be built. In addition, any government serious about meeting health needs would also have to address deep rooted poverty and inequality.
A good start would be to address pay in the NHS itself, by giving health workers a 15% pay rise. In fact the government have, to date, still failed to respond to the Pay Review Body recommendation, apparently passed to the government in late June but still not made public.
The government response on pay, when it does come, may still see outcry from healthworkers. Although the NHS anniversary protests held on 3 July didn’t mobilise healthworkers on the scale of the 2020 protests, work done to build the events received a good response in many workplaces. The money for a substantial pay rise and funds to restore the NHS exists, but action will be needed to secure a victory.
Activists must continue to make the case for taxing the rich to fund a radical reestablishment of the health and social care services.