COVID-19 has been crippling for the NHS, but it has been in crisis for a while. Since 2010, the Tories have continually underfunded the service, undervalued its staff and privatised every part they can. As a result, the NHS is unable to cope with this deadly outbreak, and deaths are rising sharply by the hour.
Funding cuts for the NHS in the last 10 years
There is no denying that had the Government better funded the NHS in the past 10 years, we would have provided more support for people who have caught COVID-19 and almost certainly kept the death toll down significantly. Since coming to power in 2010, the Conservative Party have waged a war on our health service. This has not only manifested itself in cuts to frontline services, but we’ve lost the Nurses’ bursary, Junior Doctors were forced to go on strike due to poor pay and medical students now have student debts of £70,000.
As early as 2011, The Conservatives were making ‘efficiency savings’ which essentially boiled down to cuts of £20 Billion and forced Hospitals to close down services such as A & E departments. The aggressive cutting of the NHS budgets and services has been a continuing presence during the Tories time in office, with as recently as 2018 seeing another billion pounds being slashed from funding for training doctors and nurses, buying equipment and new hospitals. After ten years of cutting the service, eyebrows were certainly raised when Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that the Government were going to write off £13.4bn of debt from the NHS – again raising questions regarding why the Government has failed to do this previously during more recent winter crises etc. Even more distressing are the reports suggesting the government was warned three years ago that, as a result of a major simulation exercise, the NHS could not cope in the face of a flu pandemic.
Source: BBC Caption: Don’t be fooled by the slight increase in spending, as it is still far under the average since 1955 and less than a 1/3 what the Labour government were paying.
Have these cuts affected us locally?
The picture in Worcestershire and the surrounding counties has been in step with the rest of the country with regards to NHS cuts. The tales of the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust has been well publicised, with the Trust being branded as ‘inadequate’ a number of times by inspectors. These inadequate ratings are a by-product of the savage cuts the Trust have been faced with since 2010, including the continuing budgetary demands leading to the constant cutting of jobs. The cuts from central government have led to the Trust running a year on year deficit of £17.7 million.
Again, in line with the national narrative, the cuts have kept on coming for Worcestershire. As of October 2018, NHS Sustainability and Transformative leaders were instructed to draft five-year plans regarding NHS funding deficits and asked to highlight where savings could be made. The proposed cuts for our area include the downgrading of the A&E at Alexander Hospital and Maternity services being diverted from Redditch to Worcester. Also, worryingly, we are likely to see a reduction of 62% of community hospital beds and a reduction of acute hospital beds also.
What does this mean for the fight against COVID-19?
The Government’s lack of funding has led to a decrease in bed numbers across the whole country, a lack of nurses and depleted resources for our frontline workers. Even the purpose-built Nightingale Hospital in London has been forced to turn patients away as there are too few nurses to treat them. These issues are compounded in ITU wards, with there being a serious lack of ventilators available to treat those who are fighting this deadly disease. The simple truth is that lack of funding, and by extension essential equipment, means we are witnessing thousands of unnecessary deaths. Running the parallel to that are those patients who still require NHS treatment for non COVID-19 related issues who may be denied the essential care they need. Underfunding goes hand-in-hand with the fact the Tories have continually cut off access to those wanting to become doctors and nurses through tuition fee increases and cuts to bursaries. This is then on top of the relatively poor pay for NHS staff, with the Tories blocking pay rises at every turn – even going so far as to celebrate blocking pay rises for nurses and firefighters in 2017.
So, when someone tells you not to make the #Clapforourcarers political, remember it is the Tories who have underfunded the NHS to the point where we have patients turned away from the Nightingale, COVID sufferers without ventilators and NHS staff without protective clothing or equipment. This crisis is political – and we need to hold this government to account.