I won’t lie, I felt pretty abject on May 8th. So many hopes shattered, so many people now entering frightening unknowns, feeling insecure, threatened, battle-weary; so much disappointment, so many careers dashed and prospects ruined.
This is the reality which a whole nation of healthcare workers woke up to the day after the election. Because we the Left could not persuade you the voting public what was at stake yesterday. I’m sorry.
I’m sorry we could not speak over the volume of a right-wing press complicit in the dismantling of our greatest public service. We could not persuade the BBC to give you the facts, or ask the government the right questions on your behalf.
Lacking all conviction, we tried. We tried to spell it out. Four years ago 400 health professionals and experts publically condemned the Health and Social Care Act, hoping to get your attention, saying the Bill would “erode the NHS’s ethical and cooperative foundations, and [would] not deliver efficiency, quality, fairness or choice”. You ignored them.
Since then countless experts not driven by political ambition – the BMA, the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Royal College of Nursing– have pleaded with the government to think again. They have all been dismissed by the government, which knew better.
And those professionals who pleaded for mercy have since seen their budgets squeezed, pay frozen, wards shut and services fragmented. The “moral economy” which once gave NHS hospitals “almost a family atmosphere”, to quote a nurse I spoke to recently, has been well and truly bankrupted. And to add bitter insult to injury, staff have endured five years of malignant, defamatory attacks from a right-wing press that has no compunction about blaming nurses and doctors for the decisions of their political masters. You scarcely blinked.
Last Summer, a group of mothers from Darlington marched from Jarrow to London, all for you, to get your attention. Some people noticed; I remember the man who screamed “fucking cunts” from his white van as he drove past, but you turned the other way as they walked past your door.
I and far more illustrious journalists wrote article after article, pointing out the flaws of outsourcing healthcare, of the gross false-economies you get when you try to treat healthcare as a market and why privatisation evangelicals don’t tell the truth about the hidden costs of outsourcing medicine.
I tried to point out that while the government would never admit a piecemeal privatisation of the NHS was happening, the facts reveal a different story. Off the top of my head, there was a 500% increase in the value of contracts won by the private sector between 2013/14 and 2014/15, and when the Tories and the Lib Dems took over in 2010, £291 million worth of contracts went to private providers; last year this had risen to £9.6bn. It never made a dent.
I tried to explain how the government was arranging it so that it could close wards, services and hospitals on financial grounds, even if they were delivering perfect health care. Even how our involvement in the EU was gravely threatening our public services.
I put together a list of 50 quotes about the NHS and the way it was changing, in the hope that if you wouldn’t take it from me, you might listen to Stephen Hawking, Owen Jones, senior doctors, politicians and healthcare campaigners. I even wrote a list of 10 questions that were curiously absent whenever Jeremy Hunt or David Cameron were ‘grilled’ on the NHS, and sent it to the BBC (directly to one of the current Newsnight reporters I know).
Thousands of campaigners rallied, spoke, protested in broad daylight. Somehow, you never saw them. They spoke out on TV whenever they were allowed, they wrote to their MPs. A group of doctors and nurses even formed their own political party and ran in the election.
Story after story screamed back at you from the TV set, telling uncomfortable truths about the worst A&E figures on record; pay freezes for nurses and HCAs; hospitals falling into the red; budgets under pressure; GPs unable to cope; hundreds of millions of Pounds of your money being wasted on emergency medical staff; patients being treated in tents in hospital car parks.
But none of that matters now. It all came down to yesterday. It’s not just that the Conservatives won – it’s the nature of the defeat.
With an out-and-out majority, the Tories can claim vindication from the public on all of its actions, even the ones it carried out insidiously, without a mandate. With passionate intensity, the Conservative Party, unmuzzled, will press ahead with its ‘reforms’ of the welfare state, local government, education and the NHS, and it will assume a mandate to cut brutally at the state and shrink back our public services even more.
Labour would have repealed the Health & Social Care Act, and had pledged to limit the role of private healthcare in the NHS. It had the funds to create 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more doctors and 3,000 more midwives all ready to go. They just needed your support.
The Green Party had been even more honest about what the NHS needed, and had backed a Bill just before the election which spelled out in black & white exactly how the NHS could be restored.
But this is all academic now. The grand plan is almost complete: the legislation is in place, the auction of public assets has already begun and the oligarchs of the British state are huddled, cheque-books in hand. Get ready for your GP appointments being charged (mark my words), even fewer drugs being covered by the NHS subsidy, and billions more of our taxpayer money being converted into private profit.
These are just the first steps along a one-way street to an insurance-based market modeled on the US system. We were already well down that road, but yesterday marked the blocking off of all other routes.
At least £4.5bn will continue to be wasted each year on facilitating the internal market, despite cogent arguments and consistent pleas that scrapping it and diverting those funds to healthcare could help eradicate the funding deficit.
Nor will anything be done about the odious PFI debts that leave trusts making £2.5bn in repayments annually; neither Simon Stevens nor David Cameron has even mentioned these as being potentials for savings, why?
There has been no pledge to reduce to amount spent (wasted) on agency nurses or locum doctors, another of the areas where true savings could and should be made – another £2.5bn in fact. Why?
Because rather than being truly fixed and reformed as an efficient public service, the NHS is being fattened up for maximum profits yet simultaneously run at a loss – straight from the text book of a ‘public bad, private good’ coup.
Noam Chomksy said that the “standard technique of privatisation”, is to “defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, [then] you hand it over to private capital”. And with the Tory victory, the real puppet-masters like Oliver Letwin, author of the book Privatising the World and David Cameron’s policy guru, can get back to work and finish what they started.
It’s done. I’m sorry. We tried.