How dare Dido Harding, the would-be boss of the NHS, attack tens of thousands of “foreign” health workers working in Britain?
The failed Test and Trace tsar said this week that if she gets the NHS top job, she’d end the service’s reliance on doctors and nurses who have come from abroad.
Her remarks chimed with those racists who think staff from outside Britain are inferior.
What an insult to doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, porters and domestics that risked their health to provide care during the pandemic. “She seems to think that the NHS doesn’t need us,” said Matilde, a community-based nursing assistant who came to Britain from Portugal five years ago.
“Has she got any idea about what we do? I don’t think the NHS could cope if we weren’t here.”
Matilde, who is of mixed Angolan and Portuguese heritage, sees racism in Harding’s comments.
“This racism already affects me in my job,” she said.
“Some of my patients, and their families, are really horrible to me.
“They don’t like me touching them—they treat me like I have a disease. I find that so hurtful. And now we have Dido Harding spreading fear among us, trying to turn NHS workers against each other.”
Ifeoma is a support worker who has worked at an east London hospital for the past eight years.
She said Harding’s comments made her angry because they showed no recognition of how difficult life can be for migrant workers in the NHS.
“Dido Harding sees me as a nobody,” she told Socialist Worker.
“Back home in Nigeria, I was a scientist. I have a degree.
“But because of my status, I’ve found it hard to train to become an occupational therapist, which was my aim.”
Ifeoma, her husband and her daughter all work for the health service.
But they’ve been told they will need approximately £21,000 in fees for her family to stay in Britain.
She takes home less than £1,600 a month and lives in temporary accommodation.
The NHS has since its birth relied on people such as Matilde and Ifeoma to come from abroad and work in hospitals here.
In the years after the Second World War, it was nurses from the Caribbean and Ireland that saved the health service.
Today, some 170,000 NHS staff are of a non-British nationality.
The real danger to the health service doesn’t come from overseas workers, it is the huge number of unfilled vacancies—more than 100,000 overall.
Every ward in Britain is short-staffed. That puts patients at risk. Maria, an occupational therapist who came to Britain from Spain 15 years ago, says the real way to fill gaps would be to increase pay and decrease hours.
And, she says, there would need to be a huge recruitment campaign attracting staff from across the world, encouraging more people in Britain to train for NHS jobs.
She said that instead of addressing real issues, Harding’s comments are a “slap in the face”.
“I was so angry when I heard them,” she said. “It brought back all the feelings of being unwelcome that went along with Brexit.
“This past year I’ve worked every shift. I’ve travelled on public transport in a mask every shift. I’ve put my family at risk every shift.
I haven’t been able to see my family in Spain for more than a year for fear of infecting them, and now this?
But Maria says the feeling in her hospital is one of unity, and she puts that down to having a strong, anti-racist union branch.
“The union helped make an atmosphere that meant I could be myself. I could be proudly Spanish and be accepted.
“We’ve done so much to educate and organise people around issues of Black Lives Matter and the murder of George Floyd. I hope other hospitals will do the same.
“This is the way we can make people who feel vulnerable because of their background, feel they too are welcomed.”
But for Harding, making the NHS safe for patients and welcoming for everyone are not primary objectives.
Instead the Tory peer plans to spread hatred and division, and of course, to impose more cuts.
Hospital A&E departments and ambulance services across Britain are at breaking point as the number of patients soars.
So many people are desperate for treatment that numbers are now greater than the peak of winter 2019, the last before the pandemic.
At least 30 Hospitals across England have seen record numbers of patients during June.
North Middlesex hospital in north London last week declared an “internal incident” after some 700 patients came to its A&E unit.
That’s a larger number than its last peak in January 2020.
University Hospitals of Leicester trust also recorded its busiest day ever, with 925 patients.
Doctors are reporting that nine-hour waits are common. Socialist Worker last week reported from Swansea, in Wales, where some elderly patients waited for more than 12 hours.
The increase is putting extra pressure on hospital beds, the numbers of which have been reduced during the coronavirus crisis to try and limit its spread.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine this week warned the situation was very dangerous and that it was a “risk to patient safety” and that lives were potentially “at risk”.
A leaked memo from West Midlands ambulance trust said the problem of delays at hospitals was now “the biggest risk to patient safety”.
The growing crisis is spreading to every part of the NHS.
That’s why demonstrations for the health service set for Saturday 3 July in towns and cities across Britain are so vital.
The inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal is set to restart this week.
It will focus on Treloar College school in Hampshire where 89 haemophiliac pupils were given Factor VIII blood treatment on-site in the 1970s and 80s.
A total of 72 pupils are known to have subsequently died after contracting Hepatitis B and C and HIV from unscreened blood and plasma bought from the US.
Many more were infected. It is thought that as many as 3,000 people across Britain died as a result of the scandal.
It was the subject of an elaborate cover-up by both the medical establishment and various governments.
In 1983, then health minister Kenneth Clarke denied any threat was posed by Factor VIII.
He told parliament, “There is no conclusive evidence that Aids is transmitted by blood products.”
But recently revealed documents show that the department of health was aware of the danger.
Israel faces new crisis
Next court date 16 November