The current dispute with junior doctors is much more than a fight over pay and conditions. The very future of our national health service is at stake. I say this because as others have already made clear, the seven day working that the Tories want to see would leave even more of our NHS open to privatisation.
Already £billions worth of contracts have been awarded to the private sector to run all kinds of different services. But with no routine surgery at weekends, the present set up is a less attractive prospect to the profiteers. Put another way, the likes of American private health companies would no doubt prefer to see planned operations provide a profit over seven days rather than five.
Of course what the Tories are doing, although alarming, is not exactly surprising. Privately run health care is just an example of their ideological approach to public services; and marketisation was of course a key aspect of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Then consider also the impact of financial pressures imposed by central government.
Yet in response, what the Labour Party is doing, or rather not doing, is of grave concern. On the NHS more than any other issue, Labour has been on safe ground. We love our NHS, and we trust Labour to look after it. So apologies if I’ve missed it, but why isn’t the party adding their voice to that of the Greens, and giving unequivocal support to the junior doctors? Why isn’t it giving its total support to the NHS reinstatement bill tabled by Caroline Lucas MP. Why isn’t it shouting from every street corner about the damage the Tories are doing? Why are they not making the future of our NHS the central plank in their fight-back against the Tories?
The circumstances surely warrant a robust defence from Labour.
Working in our health service takes a special type of person. But the professionalism and commitment of staff has sadly been rewarded with pay freezes and attacks on their pensions. Now we are seeing a campaign against junior doctors played out in the media, and a threat to the bursaries of student nurses. Meanwhile the profiteers remain poised to grab ever more contracts for clinical services.
I’ve had need of our national health service quite a lot in the last few years. From my local GP surgery, to the operating theatre, to the urgent care centre at a local hospital, I have benefitted from the professional care and dedication of the staff: and the fact that the service is, for now at least, free at the point of use. The thought that one day it could be gone is frankly shocking.
So if ever there was a time to back the staff, and back the National Health Service, it is now.