Dr Julia Grace Patterson on what we must be fighting for

  • Post last modified:May 19, 2024
  • Reading time:5 mins read

I started campaigning for the NHS just under a decade ago. I was working as a junior doctor in London; austerity cuts from the Conservative Party government were having an impact on patient services and, even back then, many NHS staff could see that things were going to get a lot worse.

As cuts were made our workload grew, and it became harder to give our patients the time they needed, we lost key members of staff within the mental health teams in which I was working, and all of this had a direct impact on patients.

A mental health service needs allied health professionals with a wealth of experience in different areas. If you cut things back to the bare bones, as the Conservatives did, what you ultimately cut back on is decent patient care.

Now, in 2024, 14 long years since the Conservatives came to power, things are much worse.

The NHS: undermined in various ways

The NHS has been undermined in various ways. Staff have been significantly underpaid for many years, the service has not received enough investment, and in England alone the NHS now has an unmet repair bill of almost £12bn.

This isn’t just a repair bill for minor things like peeling paint or replacing furniture. A recent report judged that £2.4bn of the repairs are “high risk”, and unless they’re done soon, could spell disaster for NHS patients and the staff who care for them.

In the past few months alone, a ceiling has fallen on a patient, and a lift has plummeted several floors with a surgeon inside, injuring his leg.

There have been reports of thousands of vermin infestations within NHS buildings – cockroaches, wasps, rats, and lice in hospitals. Is this what the public deserves when they pay their taxes?

However, the problems don’t stop with the buildings.

The government is breaking all our health service’s core principles

Millions are on NHS waiting lists, unable to access the treatment they need, with far-reaching consequences. If you’re unwell and you can’t get care, your symptoms may worsen, and your need for medication might increase. You might not be able to work anymore, your mental health may suffer, your personal relationships may deteriorate.

Health does not sit in isolation; peoples’ illnesses impact every area of their lives, and waiting is not just an inconvenience. Put bluntly, it can be the difference between life and death.

The NHS has several clear core principles – they are even featured on the government’s own website. They stipulate that the care provided will be ‘comprehensive, equal, and available to all’.

Yet the government is breaking these principles now.

Care is no longer comprehensive for many people, the provision of services across the country is patchy, and there are instances where patients are now charged within the NHS too.

What’s more, this government has enabled the infiltration of privatisation into the NHS. There are now thousands of outsourced NHS services, many of which are run by private companies. There is no evidence that privatisation benefits the NHS, and patients have not been consulted on the legislation that has made privatisation possible, and yet politicians have got away with doing all this.

Labour will not be the change we need to see

It would be incredible to think that if the Conservatives were voted out at the next general election, things would improve, but I’m worried about Labour Party proposals for the NHS too.

Wes Streeting, shadow health and social care secretary is enthusiastic about the involvement of private companies in the NHS and the proposals don’t seem to include enough support for NHS staff either.

Doctors, nurses, and every worker in the NHS has been treated appallingly for many years. The pressure on the workforce has been relentless, and they are scapegoated in the press for many problems that they have not caused.

It’s often difficult for doctors and nurses to speak up safely when problems arise, and their pay has fallen far below countries which are comparable on economic terms. We’re facing a significant brain drain as professionals, understandably, leave the NHS for countries where they’ll be better supported.

We all deserve so much better than this, and it is possible to change things, so it’s time to get much louder, and fight for the NHS together.

The fight for the NHS must go up a gear

I’m the Canary’s newest columnist, and I’ll be updating you with NHS news, calling attention to important developments, and explaining why we can, and should, rebuild the NHS.

We don’t need more empty promises from politicians, or any more half-baked or unambitious plans either. The NHS was built 75 years ago after the second world war, when the country was financially broken, and millions had endured immeasurable trauma.

If it was possible then, it’s possible now. We need hopeful, transformative policies for the NHS and the first step towards those is through raising public awareness of what’s going on.

Feature image via Duncan Cumming – Flickr and Dr Julia Grace Patterson

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