With patients waiting in hospital corridors for hours on end and being sent home in taxis, the NHS is clearly in crisis.
But there’s a big argument about what’s behind the health service’s decline. A recent Survation poll found that 27 percent of people blamed Tory cuts—but 28 percent said that migrants are to blame.
Right wing news outlets promote this idea, with the Daily Mail proclaiming, “Sickly immigrants add £1bn to NHS bill.”Not to miss out, the Telegraph has also joined in the blame game, claiming that the “NHS spent £181,000 treating just one illegal immigrant.”
But on an 800-strong march in Norwich last Saturday, health campaigners, trade unionists and Labour politicians spoke out against this scapegoating. Chanting “NHS not for Sale” as they marched, they pinned the blame on Tory austerity and privatisation.
Gavin Davies, a GMB union officer, explained, “The NHS was built by the Labour Party to be a free national health service for people in Britain and overseas visitors should they require medical assistance for any reason.”
Some 55,000 of the 1.2 million NHS workers in England are European Union migrants, according to the NHS Electronic Staff Record.
Davies argued that migrant workers are not causing the problems facing NHS. “We have always had overseas visitors to this country,” he said. “To suddenly start blaming immigrant workers for the problem is again very foolish.”
Budget cuts are a big factor behind the NHS crisis, but these have combined with cuts to social care and other services.
Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South, said, “Cuts to social care, local authorities and mental health services mean that the NHS is being used by all these other people. They 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.”
Besides cuts, the NHS is facing privatisation, unequal distribution of funds, and money wasted on faulty services.
Privatisation also exacerbates the strain as hospitals get contractors in to provide services that would otherwise be done in-house. Davies said, “That’s a lot of money wasted and that happens time and time again.
He added, “There are a lot of directors who get paid three figure sums who drain the funds.
“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.”
Immigration has a minimal, if any impact on the NHS, and austerity is fuelling the crisis. Jon Parker-Dean, a GMB union spokesperson, said, “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."
But budget cuts in the NHS are not the only reason for the pressure.
It will mean reversing cuts and privatisation within the health service—and to other services that feed into the NHS crisis.