A thank you NHS sign in a window

Marking the 75th birthday of our NHS

This opinion piece was first published on 5 July 2023 in The Isle of Thanet News

Today we celebrate something important, something that we all share in common. It’s the 75th birthday of our NHS. Happy birthday! And immense thanks to all those staff working in our wonderful institution. Many staff often work a great deal of unpaid over time and go above and beyond their job descriptions. I hear examples of wonderful staff all the time.

One way or another we have have been the direct beneficiaries of this wonderful idea – free healthcare. It’s hard for any of us to wake up thinking that somehow we need to find the cash to see a doctor or to pay for vital, life saving treatment.

But, we know our NHS is being run down. For instance just 13 years ago our NHS system was ranked as one of the very best in the world. How times have change! We know for certain that the Tories are failing, and as a result the NHS is in steep decline. Since launching the new NHS plan just five months ago waiting list for routine hospital treatment have risen from 7.2M to 7.4M.

Urgent action is required to stop the waiting list growing exponentially. GP numbers are falling dramatically.

  1. The new recently announced NHS workforce plan is long overdue. It’s quite unbelievable to think that there has been no workforce plan and on one has taken responsibility for workforce over the past 20 years. Labour have long been calling for exactly this  – as we’ve watched the NHS being hollowed out and run down.
  2. It’s sad, frightening and reversible, and we are out of step with similar countries, our life expectancy is decreasing. If we are going to change this we must start to regard the funding of our NHS as an investment. (About 10,000 people a year die early who would be saved by French or Swedish levels of treatment, the figures suggest. The Times.) 13 years ago we had one of the best healthcare systems in the world, but the slow striping out to support an ideological drive to privatisation has damaged it. Healthcare is expensive but any alternative to the NHS is likely to be just as costly, if not more so. So let’s invest in it and fix what we’ve got, the institution that we’ve already built. For goodness sake don’t fall for the rhetoric of privatisation – you only have to look at what’s happening to the water industries to see what a disaster that is!
  3. Any organisation is only as good as the people who work for it. And that means fostering positive industrial relations. I know that sounds old-fashioned. But workers needs to be heard and need to be satisfied that their concerns are being taken fully into consideration, and that they are being paid properly. But this Government have stopped talking to NHS unions and NHS organisations. They need to get around the ‘negotiating table’ to build knowledge and relationships with the health unions and royal colleges. They urgently need to build trust with these bodies and to find decent pay settlements. Retention of existing staff is now critical. Our NHS staff are leaving in alarming numbers. Those people that looked after so many of us through the difficult Covid emergency. Factor in the age profile of the workforce, and the global shortage of doctors and other clinicians. We simply have to nail retention.
  4. It’s clear that we need to recruit and train many thousands of health and social care workers. Decent wages and working conditions are vital. Somehow we need hundreds and thousands of new workers to start training and entering our NHS. It’s got to become an employer of choice and offer attractive long-term careers. We need to grow our own talent and harness enthusiasm wherever we find it.

So on the 75th anniversary we face a stark choice. One that we must get right or face an increasingly difficult future. A future where health care really is little more than a lottery. Britain spends lower than average on healthcare as a proportion of GDP, and its per capita spend is well below the EU as a whole. The last labour government made the NHS a priority we invested, 6.7% into the NHS on average in real terms compared to a paltry and insufficient 1.1%. The funding crisis must be addressed.

Currently we have too few staff, dilapidated buildings, lack of investment in equipment, a huge social care gap, lack of IT, appalling industrial relations, lack of preventive healthcare, a crisis in mental health, the list goes on. So happy 75th birthday! And huge thanks to our staff, the next steps is to ensure its survival.

Challenging Damian Green on BBC Radio Kent

This morning, BBC Kent was broadcasting from the Estuary View Medical Practice in Whitstable. I was invited on to put the Labour perspective on the state of the NHS. As you would expect, I was less than complimentary about how successive Conservative governments have managed our National Health Service…

Karen Constantine on BBC Radio Kent’s NHS 75th birthday special.

Main photo by Nik