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In May 2015 the Conservative government in the UK was elected after promising to properly fund the NHS. Since then, ministers have repeated – time and again – that enough money is being provided for our health service.
However, it was recently revealed that nine out of 10 hospitals faced overcrowding this winter – a sure fire sign that government underfunding is beginning to affect patient care. Waiting times are up. And there’s a widespread cash shortage forcing difficult decisions on staff around the country.
Meanwhile, the number of applicants for nursing courses has plummeted following the axing of the NHS bursary, storing up further long-term problems and exacerbating an already worrying nursing shortage.
The pressure on the NHS is greater still because social care – which has been cut in real terms by the government since 2010 – is creaking under the weight of an aging population and a shortage of resources. That has an impact on the NHS, with more elderly patients stuck on wards because they can’t be cared for elsewhere. And of course, there’s the pernicious and damaging pay cap that holds health workers’ wages down, damaging morale and recruitment at the same time.
The word crisis is often overused, but for our National Health Service in 2017, it’s a perfectly reasonable description. This scenario was entirely foreseeable – it is a disaster of the government’s own making. And then on top of all of these, there have been reports that changes to business rates could cost the NHS £600m, as the likes of Amazon save money. At a time when our NHS needs real help and resources, the government is delivering stealth cuts to budgets.
These are just some of the reasons why UNISON branches all over the UK participated actively in the NHS National demo on 4 March in London – opposing privatisation and cuts in our health service and fighting to save it for future generations who will need it just as much as we do.