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The NHS is turning 72 - decisive action is needed to protect it

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72 years since its founding, the NHS is under unprecedented strain. We need a strategy to ensure it survives.

The NHS turns 72 on 5th July. Over the last few months, its has been under unbelievable strain and has operated to its limits.

These are exceptional circumstances, but it shows that exceptional measures are needed if we want the NHS to remain a world-class service for every community.

Here’s what the NHS urgently needs.

Proper funding

A four per cent annual increase over the next 15 years in health funding is what is needed to allow NHS services to improve.

Current funding levels fall far short of that. In the March 2020 budget, the Chancellor announced an extra £6bn of health funding over the course of this parliament.

This represents an increase of health spending of 3.4 per cent in 2020/21. This is just about enough to maintain pre-Coronavirus crisis levels of service but doesn’t address long-term staff shortages or the backlog of essential capital spending and doesn’t allow for investment in service transformation.

A proper workforce strategy

We repeatedly hear from NHS professionals that there aren’t enough staff and that unfilled vacancies put additional strain on staff trying to fill the gaps. This is confirmed by the latest NHS survey, showing that only 32% of NHS staff agree that there are enough staff in their organisation to do their job properly.  

Recent data shows the total number of vacancies in the NHS is just over 100,000. Nursing is the most impacted sector, with one in eight nursing posts unfilled, equating to 43,000 vacancies. 

Since 2015, the number of GPs has fallen by a thousand, despite the Conservative government’s pledge to recruit 5,000 more GPs by 2020.

The NHS needs a workforce strategy that focuses on pay, pensions and conditions, and which supports retention of existing staff and increasing investment in their professional development.

Decent pay

The government must reward workers for the huge sacrifices they have made by giving them fair pay rises that restore what they have lost during ten years of cuts and slow growth.

As an example, nurses’ pay is £3000 lower than it was in 2010 and ambulance drivers’ pay is £1600 lower. Seven in 10 care workers earn less than £10 an hour.

But just over a month ago, the government said it would consider freezing the pay of public sector workers.

We are not clapping that.

Bring outsourced staff back in-house

Cleaners, porters, caterers and security guards are doing essential jobs within the NHS. Yet, they are paid less than NHS employees.

They are not offered the same training opportunities or sick pay that they would have if they were employed directly.

Unions have already played a vital role in securing better deals for cleaners and security guards, ensuring that outsourcing companies upped their pay rate. But the best way to end the two-tier workforce is to bring all NHS workers in-house.

Protect NHS staff during the Covid-19

Day in, day out, NHS staff on the frontline in fighting Covid-19 are risking their own lives to save others.

Yet news stories about shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and inadequacy of equipment are still making the headlines.

We want the government to ensure that all staff are protected and that risk assessments are carried out, acted on and shared with staff and unions reps.

This is particularly important for BME staff, who have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. We want to see tailored risk assessments that take into account the particular risks facing BME workers, including institutional racism.
Lastly, we need a test and trace program that will ensure a Covid-secure workplace

Protect the NHS from a disastrous no-deal Brexit

A no-deal Brexit would exacerbate the current staffing crisis and affect the ability of the NHS to recruit medical staff from the rest of the EU.

The NHS can’t afford to lose more staff.

A no deal-Brexit would allow the government to sign a dodgy trade deal with the US, leaving the NHS wide open to more privatisation.

A decent national care service

A privatised, fragmented provider market - and a sector starved of adequate government funding – has made the impact of Covid-19 on social care much worse.

The crisis has confirmed that social care is the poor cousin of the NHS. But a dysfunctional social care system hurts the NHS as well.

For the NHS’s 72nd Birthday, let’s give the country a decent national care service.

We need an integrated health and social care system that is democratically accountable, has genuine parity of esteem with the NHS and can enforce sector-wide standards for both service users and workers.

As Unison puts it in their latest report, the aspiration should be to deliver the vast majority of social care through public funding, and to substantially increase the direct public provision of social care.

Together, these changes would be a fitting way to mark the NHS’s birthday. And if we can’t do it now, when the NHS is so emphatically proving its worth, when will we?

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