NHS at 73: high time for a collective "clap-back"!

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
6 July 2021

It’s almost laughable. On the occasion of the 73rd birthday of the NHS, exhausted, understaffed, underpaid, health workers are invited to a church service at Westminster, to be awarded the George Cross medal - collectively - for “bravery” during the pandemic!

    What a cynical ploy on the part of Johnson, using the queen and her (useless) medal as a buffer against health workers’ anger! So, out of respect for the 95 year-old monarch, health worker “heroes” must now shut their mouths and cease their protests and strike threats?

    Johnson and new Health Secretary Sajid Javid have certainly made it clear that they aren’t prepared to budge on that other “award” - the 1% NHS pay “rise”, amounting to a 2% pay cut!

Blame it all on the pandemic

Of course it’s no great revelation that Johnson and his ministers don’t give a damn about nurses and doctors - or indeed about any other workers. Their culpability for the huge Covid death toll is beyond doubt. And they’ve lied about the virus, lied about the risks, lied about the data and just about everything else concerning the pandemic, from day 1. With the end of lock down on the 19th (but wasn’t it over already... Euro-2020, Wimbledon..?), this lying continues.

    The latest deception is over mask-wearing. Incredibly, not one of Johnson’s hand-picked medical “experts” will admit that a proper mask is highly protective of the wearer (not just “others”) and can been 100% effective in preventing transmission. This was always known in China/the Far East, yet even after home-grown Cambridge University confirmed it, they still keep mum.

    No wonder: on the one hand, wearing a mask isn’t “popular” and on the other, they aren’t prepared to supply them free to the public. So they all repeat like libertarian parrots that it’s “a matter of personal choice”, or “courtesy”! Never mind rising 3rd wave infection rates, up to and over the 2nd wave peak. It doesn’t matter at all that the delta variant is more infectious, affects younger people, can make them sick and kill them. And that it can mutate into new vaccine-dodging super-strains. Or that a third of adults (plus all under 18s) remain unvaccinated.

    Javid went further than Johnson in his pledge that the 19 July “Freedom Day” is “irreversible”. It’s not just about the economy, he says. No, he claims that lifting lock down will make the country “healthier”!

    Yes indeed! He claims it was the “rules that we have had to put in place”which “caused a shocking rise in domestic violence and a terrible impact on so many people's mental health”.Really? So nothing to do with the social conditions arising out of post-2008-austerity, made so much worse by the lack of social housing, job cuts, benefit cuts, low pay/precarious jobs - before any pandemic arrived..?

    And what kind of state-provided measures have there ever been to prevent domestic violence? Beaten-up women always had to rely on voluntary organisations for help. No, if there was a crisis in these areas, it is because the state never provided what was needed in the first place. Psychiatry isn’t called the “Cinderella” service for nothing!

Protecting jobs and conditions

The whole of the health service was already in a state of near-collapse before the pandemic struck, due to funding cuts and staff shortages. That was why the first lock down slogan was “protect the NHS”! Yes, the ultimate irony, when it’s the NHS which is meant to do the protecting.

    As for the 5.1m now waiting for appointments, including those needing urgent cancer care, it’s a travesty to blame it on the lock-down. Waiting lists may yes, be even longer now, but the “wonderful NHS” stopped coping several decades ago. How many died prematurely over the past many years, because their cancer was diagnosed too late?

    In fact even before the privatisations of the 1980s and 1990s, cuts in funding, cuts in beds and cuts in staff pay and conditions, had already begun. The first ever doctors’ strike was in November 1975!

    Today hospital doctors, who struck in 2016, are threatening to strike again. Then it was the junior doctors, now it is consultants. But even they say that it’s pay across the whole NHS which needs to increase.    

    The junior doctors did not win their dispute in 2016. They lost, because they fought on their own, even though other health workers whose pay was frozen had every reason to join them on strike!

    Today, not just all health staff, but all workers have reason to take on the bosses and their politicians. After furlough ends, there will be even more job cuts and pay cuts. But the working class, by using its collective strength, uniting across all industries and sectors would find it eminently possible to win the battle for decent pay, shorter hours and healthy, safe, permanent jobs - once, and for all!