attacking NHS workers & calling for privatisation

  • Post last modified:May 28, 2024
  • Reading time:6 mins read

With the Labour Party enjoying a strong lead in the polls ahead of the general election, many people are watching what Wes Streeting says closely about the NHS. After all, he hopes to become our next secretary of state for health and social care in a matter of weeks, and he’s certainly not the quiet, retiring type.

In fact, he has a particular style of communication which has emerged over the past year or so, and I thought I’d explain what I’ve observed.

Wes Streeting: a journalist’s dream – especially for the right

Wes Streeting is a journalist’s dream, because he makes bold statements which lend themselves to the sort of inflammatory headlines which drive a huge amount of outrage, clicks, and ad revenue. Streeting has also been interviewed by a whole range of media outlets in recent months, which allegedly span the range of the political spectrum.

This, in itself, is incredibly revealing. We’re meant to believe that certain media outlets have a politically progressive editorial agenda, when they’re printing very similar content and opinion pieces to some proudly right-wing publications.

I’ve been campaigning for the NHS for almost a decade now, and I’ve learnt that politicians have different styles when they want to convince us that they will save the NHS.

For many years now, politicians have undermined the NHS through the policies they have pushed through parliament, and through budgetary restraints that they have intentionally enacted. Meanwhile, they have enabled the proliferation of privatisation in various ways, and there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that it has helped.

During this time, however, those in charge have been keen to tell the public that they are doing these things to help, and that their actions are in the best interests of the public and the future of the NHS.

The personas of health secretaries

Each health secretary has taken on a different persona; a political personality.

Matt Hancock liked to be seen as a nice guy. He’d tell us that he loved the NHS, and seemed to take every opportunity to associate himself with the service, in a bid to bask in the glow of its public support.

Sajid Javid had a tougher approach; he seemed to like pitching himself as a sensible person who was willing to have the tough conversations that others avoided.

Wes Streeting’s persona is different to both of these, and all of the other recent health secretaries too. In fact, it’s a persona which only seems to emerge in reaction to other things, other people, who he sees as threats.

He is very keen to impress upon us that he is not afraid of any of these imaginary threats, and will fight them (presumably on our behalf?).

Streeting likes to tell us that he’s unafraid of pushing back on trade unions, and he would like you to know that he “won’t give in” to striking NHS workers who are fighting for a fair wage.

He received a lot of attention recently when he attacked “middle class lefties”, who he is concerned are somehow trying to thwart his planned revival of the NHS.

Those pesky trade unions, and NHS workers holding our crumbling health service together, and politically active members of our society who are advocating for an end to profit-creation within public healthcare! If any of these groups feel irksome to you, then don’t worry, Streeting’s on the case!

Streeting: NHS privatisation via the backdoor

However, the case he is actually making, when it comes down to it, is to involve more privatisation in the NHS, which he claims will help to bring down the waiting lists.

The waiting lists are terrifyingly long, even longer than they were when Rishi Sunak pledged to reduce them back in January 2023, with around 7.5 million cases currently awaiting treatment. It therefore makes perfect sense for any new government to tackle the situation.

However, Streeting has the wrong approach.

The private healthcare sector does not have any meaningful “spare capacity” to save the NHS, and the vast majority of doctors working in the private healthcare sector in the UK have NHS jobs too. If Labour wins the next election and expands the workload of the private sector, this will simply result in private healthcare companies poaching (yet more) NHS staff to do the work.

For months now, NHS campaigners have been speaking up about this, because the plan simply isn’t logical, and we haven’t been alone.

Many organisations have questioned Labour’s plans, and many members of the public have been extremely vocal too. Now, even a private healthcare boss has criticised the plans. Justin Ash, the CEO of Spire Healthcare, spoke to the Times to say that Labour’s plans to rely on private hospitals to bring down waiting lists is “unlikely to work”.

Labour needs a rethink

If Wes Streeting wants to be taken seriously as a future health and social care secretary, and truly wants to rebuild the NHS, he needs to have a re-think.

Firstly, he and Keir Starmer need to change their plans, because their bid to increase NHS privatisation isn’t going to help patients.

Secondly, Streeting needs to stop attacking the people who are holding the NHS together, and those fighting for its future too.

I won’t take him seriously until he does.

Featured image via the Canary

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