Theresa May lashed out at NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens last week in a desperate attempt to deflect blame from Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
May said that Stevens would have to bear personal responsibility for the winter crisis in the NHS, as hospitals face a dangerous shortage of beds.
It comes after Stevens criticised May for underfunding the NHS. He called on Leave-supporting ministers to honour their £350 million funding pledge made during the EU referendum.
The tensions between Tory ministers and health bosses are a sign of the spiralling crisis in both the government and health services.
Hunt tried to regain the initiative last week with promises of a “robust, coordinated workforce plan” to deal with chronic staff shortages.
But his announcement came after figures from the Ucas university application service showed a drop in the number of people applying for nursing courses.
The Tories axed the bursary for nursing, occupational therapy and other health students in April.
Allies of Stevens said that he was the “fall guy” for the crisis—but he is also responsible. Tory health secretaries since 2010 have built on the legacy of Tony Blair’s Labour governments’ free market reforms.
Stevens was hired to advise New Labour health secretaries Frank Dobson and Alan Milburn in 1997—and personally advised Tony Blair from 2001.
While Labour pumped much-needed cash into the NHS, it also began prising it open for private profit.
Crucially Labour supported an “internal market”, which breaks up the NHS and means that different services have to compete for resources and contracts.
As health adviser Stevens was a key mover in NHS Plan 2000, which pushed the market deeper into the NHS.
The results of those free market reforms are seen in the NHS crisis today.
A combination of Tory budget cuts and privatisation, and the decimation of local authority-run social services, create the perfect storm.
Poverty pay and rocketing workloads are pushing nurses and other health workers out of the NHS. Yet the Tories are still determined to push through Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs).
These aim to slash £22 billion from the NHS by 2020/21 under the guise of improving patient care. The STPs’ next phase, Accountable Care Systems (ACS), further break up the NHS.
Labour has promised to “renationalise” the NHS, but it would still only make it the “preferred provider” when bidding for services.
The internal market should be abolished, private providers kicked out, health workers given above-inflation pay rises and the NHS a large injection of cash.
That means fighting for the NHS now, not waiting for a possible Labour government.