By Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2589

Cuts are to blame for the NHS winter crisis—‘health tourism’ is a racist lie

This article is over 6 years, 3 months old
Issue 2589
Migrant and BME workers have built the health service and have fought to save it
Migrant and BME workers have built the health service and have fought to save it (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth pledged last week that a Labour government would defend the rights of EU migrants working in the NHS. “We will defend your rights, we will defend your citizenship,” he told a Labour Party rally in London last Thursday.

It’s important that Labour has pledged that—there’s a battle over who to blame for the NHS crisis.

A YouGov poll last week showed that people’s top concern is the NHS. But it was quickly followed by immigration.

The Tories and right wing media smear migrants as a drain on resources in a bid to divert attention from the real cause of the NHS crisis. Years of budget cuts, privatisation and the decimation of social care are the real culprits.

The Daily Express newspaper knows the NHS crisis is a life and death issue for its readers. But to deflect from the Tories’ cuts, closures and privatisation it ran headlines last month on the “Scandal of Health Tourism” and demanded “Give Foreign Aid Cash to NHS”.


“Health tourism” is a lie. The claimed sums make up just 0.3 percent of the NHS budget—and is a racist code for migrants and black people using the health service.

The Tories introduced charges and passport checks for some migrants last January.

The British Medical Association (BMA) raised concerns last week over the NHS passing thousands of patients’ addresses to immigration officials.

GP Lucinda Hiam works for the Doctors of the World charity, which runs clinics for migrants. She told the Health Select Committee last month that the data sharing was already putting pregnant women at risk.

“Pregnant women are frightened to go to the GP and trying to assuage their fears isn’t working,” she explained.

“Women won’t go to their GP anymore, even those experiencing domestic violence.”

Migrant workers built the NHS—but migrants and black people still face institutional racism.

The Homerton University Hospital and Barts Health NHS Trusts in east London span some of the most multicultural areas in the city. Yet their latest equality reports showed that black workers are less likely to be promoted and more likely to be disciplined.

To resist the Tories’ assault, activists have to make sure that the working class is not divided by racism. That’s why Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) has organised a Migrants Make Our NHS bloc on the NHS demo this Saturday.

Activists are also building for the SUTR trade union conference in London on Saturday 10 February.

Firefighters answer NHS calls

The number of medical emergencies responded to by firefighters has rocketed as a result of a Tory plan to cover for understaffed ambulance trusts.

Figures released last week showed firefighters in England responded to 45,110 medical calls in the year 2016-17. That’s a massive increase from 15,812 in 2014-15.

The increase is down to a huge rise in co-responding—where firefighters respond to emergency medical callouts alongside paramedics.

Firefighters in 32 fire brigades have taken part in co-responding trials that began in 2015. But members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) voted to stop the trials last year, rejecting a below-inflation pay offer that was linked to continuing extra duties.

Talks between the FBU and fire bosses over a new offer are expected to last until March.

Meanwhile FBU members at West Midlands Fire Service are fighting plans to force new starters to perform extra duties.

Councillors on the Labour-controlled West Midlands Fire Authority want to introduce flexible contracts for new firefighters. These will impose extra duties such as transporting patients from hospital or helping older people who fall in their home.

West Midlands FBU has launched a petition against the plans warning that they could take firefighters away from frontline emergencies.

West Midlands FBU secretary Steve Price-Hunt said, “The Labour Party led West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority is issuing flexible contracts which abandon workers’ rights and go completely against the beliefs of the party they represent.

“If implemented then firefighters will be taken off the frontline and will not be available to respond to life saving emergencies”.

Nick Clark

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance