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Working in the NHS under a Tory government – the reality

Our health service is precious to us all and must be defended from the privatisation agenda, writes Dr ADRIAN HEALD

EVERYONE who lives in Britain relies on the National Health Service, created as it was in 1948, in the aftermath of the worst conflict that that the world has seen. 

Many people at the time did not believe that it would be possible to create a national healthcare system that was free at the point of delivery, was available to everyone in society (the equity principle) and guaranteed the same quality of care wherever anyone lived in Britain (the parity principle).

The NHS is one of the greatest achievements of any human society at any point in history. So great that it has been copied by a lot of other nations. 

Most European Union countries operate a healthcare system on a similar basis. There might be a few country-specific differences, but we led the way and the principle was eagerly taken up. 

For millennia in the past (as is still the case in some developing countries), people sometimes just died because they could not access even basic healthcare to deal with such things as trauma, childbirth or infection. 

While the NHS is not perfect, people anywhere in Britain can have access to healthcare that is safe and where evidence-based medicine is practised — free. 

The new “boardroom” of the Boris Johnson-led Conservative Party is pursuing a social and economic agenda described as “Thatcherism on steroids” — and that means that the NHS is no longer safe.  

Furthermore, when it comes to Britain’s relations with the European Union, Brexit could result in Britain by necessity “sharing a bed” with the US in trade and commerce. 

The NHS is already on the radar of billion-dollar international companies and venture capitalists — and they are only interested in the “easy bits” such as elective surgery, day procedures and high-tariff clinics that “make money” for NHS trusts not the “resource-expensive” and not-for-profit areas such as accident and emergency, long-term conditions management and older persons medicine. 

The prospect of predation privatisation of our precious NHS is avoidable — as is the loss of EU funding of medical research — totalling hundreds of millions of pounds over the last 10 years. 

Furthermore there are still no concrete plans in the event of Brexit, to deal with the consequences of Britain’s exit from the European Medicines Agency, which licences all new medicinal products.

In the NHS we rely heavily on our non-British-born staff and work shoulder by shoulder with them. 

They are involved in every aspect of care and treatment, from nurses, to radiologists, to therapy services staff, to GPs and highly specialised consultants.  

In the EU, publicly funded healthcare systems are the norm and Brits abroad on holiday or business are currently covered through the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), something we do stand to lose if we leave the EU.

The NHS is an extremely complex organisation that touches the lives of everyone in Britain. Leaving the EU will just make it harder for everyone who works in the NHS to do their jobs properly. 

The current Tory government has its sights on further privatisation of the NHS — it is up to us to create a left alliance to stop this happening. Once the NHS is gone we won’t get it back again. 

From a personal perspective, I see more and more patients having trouble managing their conditions due to nutrition.  

We see rickets and scurvy returning in some places, Victorian diseases that we thought were eradicated forever. 

We have parents fearing school holidays as they do not know how to feed their children without free school meals. 

We see life becoming more expensive due to our falling currency, which will also make buying medication and medical equipment more expensive. 

At the same time we have a shrinking economy and a dramatic increase in poverty, especially child poverty with all the health risks poverty brings. 

Even if you manage to not be moved by the human suffering, this puts strain on the NHS in terms of treating nutritional deficits that could easily be avoided and illnesses caused or made worse by stress due to fear of job loss or worries about how to make ends meet, particularly in relation to loss of social security benefits and the stress of PIP assessments.

Under the Tory government we have seen an explosion of foodbanks due to austerity. 

Those foodbanks now give out kettle packs, where people only need a kettle to prepare them, because it is the only means of cooking they have or can afford; or cold packs, which are items that can be eaten cold and without cooking, because food and fuel poverty go hand in hand. 

While I applaud and support the solidarity we all give to those who need foodbanks to survive, the need for them deeply upsets and worries me. 

From a nutritional point of view this is a disaster, causing health issues that are going to cost the NHS money and resources in the future, an NHS that is already struggling due to lack of funding and staff.

We can’t afford to treat food and fuel poverty, the economic problems we are facing with Brexit and the threat to the NHS as separate issues — those problems all come down to Tory austerity and plans made to sell off parts of the NHS to private companies for profit. 

A comparison between the US and Britain in terms of healthcare spending and life expectancy should make everybody wake up: including treatment funded privately by individuals, the US spent 17.2 per cent of its GDP on healthcare in 2016, compared with 9.7 per cent in the UK. 

At the same time the life expectancy for men and women in the US in 2016 was 76.4 and 81.4 years, while in the UK, those numbers stood at 79.04 and 82.72. 

I don’t know a more compelling argument why our NHS should never be privatised.

Dr Adrian Heald is a consultant physician in the NHS.

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