Death by a thousand cuts


When I went into St Leonard’s Conquest Hospital last year for an operation which proved to be life-threatening I was surprised how many staff (nurses and doctors) were not British.

But the so-called years of austerity after the banking crisis hit NHS pay and hospital budgets hard and many British staff quit – fed up with poor pay and the effects of budget cuts on how well they could do their jobs.

Many of those vacancies have not been filled and NHS budgets are still suffering – in GPs’ surgeries as much as in the hospitals. But we were told in huge letters on the side of the Brexit campaign bus (and check the photos for yourself) that £350 million that went to the EU could now go to the NHS instead in future.

However we are now told that the NHS cannot afford the pay increases sought – though it is the government who decides how much the NHS gets, and so called independent pay bodies are following guidelines set by the government.

Many have already quit

When I went to the GP surgery for an injection recently the nurse was settling in after just arriving from another part of Europe, while my surgeon last year was Hungarian and an A&E doctor I saw in the autumn was a locum (temporary staff), apparently from Spain or Portugal.

The threat to patient care comes from staff vacancies and underfunded services, not striking staff who want sensible pay underwritten by adequate resources – and the government’s failure to deliver either for more than ten years since the banking crisis is the problem.

The NHS saved my life twice last year (and probably during the Covid crisis, though I did not know it) but its ability to deliver is getting worse, and that is a deliberate decision by government. This is true of other public services, whether they are underfunded schools or incompetent water companies.

Striking workers did not cause the banking crisis, but it has been used for ten years or more to justify attacks on every kind of public service, and now the discontent has boiled over in many sectors – highlighted probably by the misgovernment of last year.

The threat to patient care comes solely from the government, not the strikers, and it has increased year by year since the banking crisis. If I clap anybody it will be the strikers who clapped me out of my Conquest ward nearly a year ago – for fighting back to recover after what proved to be a more threatening operation than expected.

Charles Harkness, a past Editor of Rye News, was a senior civil servant in Whitehall in the 90s and 00s but, before that, he was a journalist in the 60s, and a union leader in the 70s/80s.

Image Credits: Gaby Hardwicke Solicitors .

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