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Health service campaigner Frances Warboys, a member of Defend Enfield NHS (DENHS), acknowledges the late Queen's recognition of the outstanding public service provided by NHS staff since its inception, and particularly in response to Covid, but warns about grave threats to the future of this groundbreaking British institution.

defend enfield nhs logo

July 5th 1948: "A milestone in history" - said Nye Bevan.

But “When it's gone, it's gone", say Defend Enfield NHS.

As the nation mourns the loss of our beloved monarch, the late Queen Elizabeth II, we can take comfort from knowing that, in one of the most significant acts in the final months of her incredible reign, Her Majesty saw fit to honour the National Health Service with the George Cross, the civilian equivalent of the highest military gallantry award.

NOT ONLY does the award cite enduring thanks and appreciation to all NHS staff, past and present in each of the four UK nations, BUT ALSO it recognises their courage, compassion and dedication, “demonstrating the highest standards of public service”, during the Covid pandemic and throughout the 70-plus years since its foundation.

And yet, and yet, that recognition has still not been reflected in the level of pay rise proposed for NHS workers. The expectation that a miserly 3% increase at a time of 9% inflation would suffice has merely been replaced by 4.5% in the face of 10.1% and rising - gravely undermining staff morale as a consequence.

NOT ONLY has the government ignored the achievements of the NHS for which it has been rightly honoured by the Queen, BUT ALSO it is failing to realise the impact which an inflation-busting pay rise would potentially have on recruitment and retention in the NHS at a time when the country is short of 12,000 hospital doctors, and more than 50,000 nurses and midwives. We have been told in the past that there is “no magic money tree”. And yet, during Covid, millions of pounds were squandered on inadequate test and trace, and often unusable PPE bought from random, inexperienced, and sometimes unscrupulous providers.

An NHS modelled on the American healthcare system?

Sadly, in the light of prevailing evidence, there is a sense that the NHS is being run down in favour of private companies and corporations and their shareholders. That it is being modelled on the American healthcare system albeit that many people in the US simply cannot afford the cost of hospital treatment or even private health insurance.

What’s more, in February 2021, while this country was in the thick of the Covid crisis, two private firms, Operose and AT Medics, merged to become one for-profit firm running GP practices with half a million patients nationwide. This bad news is made even worse by the knowledge that Operose is a branch of US insurance giant, Centene Corporation, a company which has paid out millions of dollars in fines and settlements over allegations of malpractice which include fraud, mismanagement and dangerous under-staffing.

NOT ONLY, as previously reported, has at least one private provider contracted to manage an NHS hospital over a 10 year period then pulled out after a couple of years because it was not profitable enough; and NOT ONLY did a brand new privately owned diagnostic hub, contracted for five years and with an option to extend to 10, pull out after only eight months because, it said, insufficient numbers of cancer patients turned up to make it viable; BUT ALSO we now learn that Babylon Health is being “very cautious” about expanding its services in the UK because it is losing money on every patient it sees.

denhs members at palmers green triangle june 2022DENHSmembers at Palmers Green Triangle in June

Babylon Health, better known here as GP At Hand, provides a digitally-led primary care service but despite the emphasis on video consultations there has been a big rise in demand for face to face assessment. The company is contracted to provide one or two consultations per year for the age cohort registered. However, it has been accused of “cherry-picking” younger, healthier, IT-literate patients given that half are aged between 20 – 29 compared with 13% of the general population registered with a GP surgery. However, In reality, patients visited up to six or seven times with a subsequent loss to the company.

Profit is key in each of these examples but, clearly, at the expense of this nation’s health. Proof, if proof were needed, that outsourcing to the private sector is not a good idea. At the latest poll, 77% of the population wants to end privatisation of the NHS.

The pressures on hospitals and secondary care are matched by those in primary care.

NOT ONLY do we face the oncoming winter at a time when GP numbers are falling and their workload is rising, BUT, locally, surgeries have been tasked from September with rolling out the next stage of Covid and ‘flu vaccinations; and have ALSO been instructed to provide even more extended access for their patients. This includes a full working day on Saturdays, something that may only be reasonably achieved by collaborative work-sharing with other neighbourhood practices.

On 5th July 2022 we entered the 75th year of the NHS. If you, like the Queen, are one of the 77% who support it, now is the time to speak up.

Acknowledging the challenges of clearing the post-Covid treatment backlog, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation has said that, with 130,000 vacancies overall, a continued lack of investment is being compounded by decades of austerity. The founding principle of the NHS is that it exists for everyone and does not discriminate based on whether or not people can pay. “The new government would do well to remember that and do more to ensure that timely and safe care and treatment are not only available to those that can afford it.”

A recent petition to the Health Secretary has demanded that he:

  • end the staffing crisis, and pay staff properly;
  • recruit and train more staff by scrapping tuition fees and bringing back the student bursary;
  • ensure that the NHS has the funds it needs, to the level of comparable countries;
  • and stop the flow of cash to the private sector, investing in rebuilding the NHS instead.

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