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NHS at 75: Unions and campaigners sound alarm over gutted workforce and privatisation threats

THE austerity-hit NHS is facing the biggest threat in its 75-year history with a gutted workforce and rampant privatisation leaving it on the brink, health unions and campaigners warned today.

The NHS, which was founded three-quarters of a century ago today on July 5 1948, needs “long-term sustainable funding and higher workforce pay so it can care for our families and communities for many years to come,” the TUC stressed.

And the Unite union called for its “dedicated staff to be valued and not undermined” as it accused Tory ministers of a “self-inflicted failure” by choosing not to give the health service the support it needs.

The charge came as a team of healthcare experts and economists warned that the NHS and the economy are “inextricably linked — if one fails, so does the other.”

Their report, produced by a team led by Mark E Thomas, founder of volunteer body The 99% Organisation, and supported by campaign groups including Keep Our NHS Public (KONP), argued that underfunding health services creates an increasingly sick population which hits productivity and economic output.

Less money is then available for healthcare funding, prompting a worsening downward cycle, they said, adding that continuing a decade of this “harmful policy would be a disaster.”

KONP co-chairman Dr Tony O’Sullivan said: “This important work cuts through false narratives undermining the NHS and myths about funding.

“The NHS model is not at fault but is being failed by wrong, expensive and dangerous policies.

“If political leaders are open to reason, this report will show them that the future of the NHS — and thereby the health of the population and our economy — is assured if it is restored as a well-funded public service.”

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “Most of us have a story about how the NHS saved the life of someone close to us.

“We owe this to several generations of NHS workers who run this remarkable service.

“But as we celebrate its 75th birthday, the workforce needs us to care for them too. Underfunding and staff shortages are causing burnout and the loss of experienced staff.

“It’s time to deliver long-term sustainable funding for our NHS, and to raise the pay of its workforce, so that our health service is fit to care for our families and communities for many years to come.”

Unite head Sharon Graham backed the call, saying it should be “shouted from the rooftops.”

She added: “For over a decade, the government has failed to support NHS staff. This self-inflicted failure has created an existential threat, with workers who have dedicated their lives to the NHS leaving in droves.”

Official figures suggest there are at least 110,000 vacancies across the health service, which is braced for its largest-ever strike later this month when junior doctors and consultants walk out in consecutive weeks.

Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Dame Jackie Baillie hailed the founding of the NHS by Clement Attlee’s progressive post-war government as “one of the Labour Party’s, and our nation’s, proudest achievements.

“At its heart is the promise that if you ever get ill or have a serious accident, you will get the care that you need — free at the point of use, whatever your circumstances.”

But she warned the principles are at risk under both Tory and SNP ministers, with “one in seven Scots on waiting lists, cancer waiting times at record highs and heroic NHS staff feeling exhausted and demoralised.

“Labour created the NHS and we will always fight for our NHS,” Ms Baillie insisted. 

However, her Westminster counterpart Wes Streeting recently provoked condemnation for calling for more private-sector involvement in the health service, not less. 

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