People waiting in hospital corridors for hours on end, being sent home in taxis – the NHS is in crisis, but who’s to blame?
There is little agreement on the cause of the NHS’ decline. On the one hand, the Daily Mail promotes the idea that immigrants are to blame. But protesters against cuts to the NHS and Labour politicians such as Clive Lewis, blame the Tories’ policies of austerity. Others, such as the GMB trade union worker, Gavin Davies, agree that immigrants are not to blame, but perceive the NHS crisis as a more nuanced problem.
Right-wing news outlets such as The Daily Mail tend to point the finger at immigrants. One of their headlines proclaimed, “Sickly immigrants add 1 billion to NHS bill.” The Telegraph too has joined in the blame game, with stories such as one headlined, “NHS spent £181,000 treating just one illegal immigrant.”
Historically, the NHS has always served immigrants and only recently come into crisis, suggesting that immigrants are not the cause of the crisis. GMB Membership Development Officer Gavin Davies explained to Westminster World, “The NHS itself was built by the Labour party to be a free national health service for people in the UK and obviously for overseas visitors should they require medical assistance for any reason.” He added that migrant workers were not causing the problems facing NHS. “We have always had overseas visitors to this country. To suddenly start blaming immigrant workers for the problem is again very foolish,” he said.
Protesters in Norwich against NHS cuts stressed that immigrants make a positive contribution to the NHS rather than a negative one, through labour. They marched the streets of the East Anglian town, shouting, “NHS not for sale!” Lewis said, “You are far more likely to bump into an immigrant that is treating you than queuing up for the NHS.” 55,000 out of the 1.2 million staff in NHS England are citizens of other EU countries, according to the English Health Service’s Electronic Staff Record. This includes doctors; nurses; other professionals like paramedics and pharmacists; support workers providing care; and administrative staff.
Cuts to services
Labour MP for Norwich South, Clive Lewis, who attended the march, said that the government was spending more on the NHS than ever before. But the cuts made on other care services were directly increasing the number of patients who require care in NHS hospitals. He said, “What you are not hearing is the fact that it’s a false economy with regards to the cuts to social care, the cuts to local authorities, to mental health services.” He added, “The NHS is basically being used by all these other people who have fallen through the net of all the other services in our society that have been cut back. People end up at a hospital, which is probably the most expensive place to treat people.”
Chair of the Kings College London Labour Society and medical student, Lara McNeill stated, “I think cuts have been one of the biggest issues recently in the NHS and the biggest contributor to the crisis we are facing now. I think people try to use other factors to persuade away from this but it is the biggest factor.” She also pointed out that the government has badly timed the cuts to health and social care services. She said, “Cuts to vital services while the rich are getting bigger tax breaks seems ridiculous.”
The picture is more nuanced
But McNeill also thinks that the cause of the NHS crisis is multi-pronged. “Cuts are not only problem affecting the NHS but also social care, mental health services,” she said. “You end up with ill people who have less access to care in the community who end up pushing the burden onto the NHS. And through bed blocking of elderly patients who can’t get out into the community all this adds up and accumulate.”
In contrast to the right wing press and protesters against cuts, McNeill as well as Edobar and Davies believe that the NHS is facing multiple issues. Besides cuts, the NHS is facing privatisation, unequal distribution of funds, and money wasted on faulty services. Davies said, “There are a lot of directors who get paid three figure sums who drain the funds.” He added that because they dedicate campaigns to particular areas of healthcare, sometimes the funding doesn’t get spent completely across all the services. Davies also pointed to money wasted on faulty services. For example, he said, “They spend an absolute fortune on electrical records only to find out that when they first implemented it, it didn’t do what it said on the tin.”
Privatisation also exacerbates the strain on the service. Hospitals employ contractors to provide services that otherwise would be provided by the NHS. “That’s a lot of money wasted and that happens time and time again,” claimed Davies.
Although the NHS crisis is often only blamed on immigration or cuts to services, neither of these are a direct cause. Multiple issues must be tackled to bring the NHS forward. GMB trade union spokesperson, Jon Parker-Dean suggested, “If the government stopped cutting taxes for corporations and the mega-rich – they might find more in the pot to help save our ailing NHS and stop their programme to cut beds and services.” But clearly, this alone cannot help.
Sub-edited by Manisha Ganguly
Multimedia by Ahmed Isswamy and Fan Wang