Happy 70th birthday to the NHS – let’s keep it free, for all, forever

Published date
29 Jun 2018
This Saturday thousands will gather in London to celebrate seventy years of the NHS - and to demand it remains publicly owned and properly funded

On Saturday 30 June, the TUC will join our health unions and campaigners in the People’s Assembly and Health Campaigns Together to celebrate seventy years of our National Health Service.

Back in 1948, Clement Attlee’s Labour government created a welfare state with the NHS at its heart – an institution built by and for working people.

For the first time, everyone in the UK had access to a national, publicly-owned health service based on need not ability to pay.

The NHS has had its ups and downs since then, but it’s testament to the vision and creativity of those who created our system – not to mention everyone who’s worked in it over the years – that it survives to this day.

And let’s not forget that our model of healthcare remains one of the most efficient and equitable systems in the world.

Unfortunately, successive Conservative-led governments have failed the NHS since 2010.

The damaging market-led reforms of 2012 coupled with a decade of severe under-funding have left our health and social care system teetering on the brink.

We know from our members working in frontline NHS services that the pressure is the worst they have ever known, with growing concerns about patient safety.

And anyone watching BBC’s excellent Hospital series would have been appalled by the scenes of dedicated staff desperately trying to find beds, patients lined up on trollies in A&E or facing frustrating, sometimes life threatening, delays and cancellations.

To help people understand the full extent of the crisis, the TUC and the NHS Support Federation launched our new Health Checker app this week.

Simply enter your postcode to see the shortfall in GPs, hospital beds and hospital staff in your local area. The figures may shock you.

Thanks to the hard work of health unions and campaigners, the government has finally recognised the damage that austerity has done to the NHS.

But Theresa May’s recent decision to increase the total health budget by around 3 per cent per year over the next four years is simply not enough.

Health economists at the IFS and Health Foundation are clear that an additional 4 per cent a year is required just to maintain current levels of service, while an annual increase of 5 per cent will be necessary to build the world-class service the Prime Minister aspires to.

On top of that, local councils will need similar funding increases if they are to deliver the social care needs of all our communities.

As we’ve pointed out before, this level of funding is affordable and achievable – it just requires political will.

The TUC agrees that the NHS needs a long-term plan – one that includes greater integration with social care and a workforce strategy that rewards and empowers NHS workers.

And yes, we do need to maximise efficiency and productivity across the NHS so that every penny goes to service delivery.

Dismantling the dysfunctional system created by the 2012 reforms would be a good place to start.

These changes created a wasteful bureaucracy, introduced damaging competition and led to the fragmentation of services that is now preventing the kind of changes we all want to see.

But if we want ministers to change course, we have to keep letting them know how much we cherish our NHS and how ready we are to fight for its future.

That’s why I hope you’ll join the thousands who will gather at the Our NHS is 70 rally to demand an NHS that is free, for all, forever.