By Yuri Prasad
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2792

Tory plan will leave millions waiting for years for NHS care

Peter, left waiting in pain, speaks to Socialist Worker
Issue 2792
Patients waiting for hospital treatment

Years of underfunding mean NHS waiting lists are going to soar (Pic: Jori Samonen/ Flickr)

The number of people waiting for planned hospital care could rise to more than 10 million within the next two years. And it could stay that high for more years to come.

That’s according to shocking government documents leaked to The Spectator magazine this week. It says that even the “best case scenario” envisages waiting lists of 9.2 million.

That will mean a life of pain and fear for those needing essential treatment, such as knee and hip replacements—and even for some of those with life threatening conditions. The revelations came as Tory health secretary Sajid Javid admitted that the NHS backlog would keep on growing. It is already at a record 6 million patients.

As Javid announced his “elective recovery” plans to deal with the crisis it was already clear his aspirations were incredibly low.

They include that no one should wait for treatment for more than two years. And, that in four years’ time—by 2025—waiting lists should be no longer than a year. Even those told by their doctors that they require immediate treatment for cancer are to be failed.

Javid says he “hopes” that by summer of next year, time spent waiting will be limited to “just” two months.

And, after the health secretary’s announcement to the Commons, NHS leaders were quick to say that his new time limits were “ambitions” rather than binding targets. That means even these terrible waiting times may not be met.

Behind the government’s recovery plan lies an attempt to shovel money towards the private sector.

“Addressing long waits is critical to the recovery of elective care and we will be actively offering longer-waiting patients greater choice about their care to help bring these numbers down,” said Javid. “Greater choice” is a Tory euphemism for “go private”.

That means money raised by upping National Insurance contributions is going straight into the pockets of big business.

And in this, Javid takes no account of the way both the NHS and the private sector are desperately short of staff.

Any expansion of the private sector will come at the cost of less doctors and nurses in our health service.

In the wake of the Covid crisis there needs to be an expansion of the NHS on a scale not seen since its foundation.

Waiting lists were already at record levels even before the pandemic. After ten years of Tory austerity cuts they stood at a massive 4.4 million, with 1,600 waiting more than a year to get initial treatment.

A recent report from the National Audit Office estimated there were 7.8 million to 9.8 million “missing” hospital referrals so far during the pandemic.

Javid’s plan is at best a distraction from the Tories’ real aim—the managed decline of the National Health Service.

  • NHS Day of Action, Saturday 26 February. Protests across Britain. Go to sosnhs.org for details

‘I’m left feeling vulnerable and anxious’

Peter, who lives in Birmingham, has had a string of medical problems since getting Covid late in 2019.

He is one of millions of people waiting for important surgery, and for whom there is no end in sight.

The NHS worker is waiting for an operation to treat a hernia he thinks resulted from the mammoth coughing fits that accompanied the virus.

“The hernia was diagnosed in August last year and I’ve still not had a date for treatment,” he told Socialist Worker.

“The pain is a bit like having a low-level tooth ache. You can live with it, but it’s always there in the background.

“The feeling is uncomfortable and you’re always aware that there’s a bit of your bowel protruding through your stomach muscles.”

Peter says that he, like millions of others, has been left to fend for himself during the long wait.

“Since getting Covid, I’ve had blood clots on my lungs, and my gall bladder removed, and now this.

“And with all of them, it’s the same. Once you’ve left hospital you are on your own. There’s little or no follow up. No physio. No dietician. No real plan for on-going monitoring.”

The end result is a feeling of isolation and of being abandoned.

“Hospitals seem to expect you just to treat yourself by looking up things on the internet. That just leaves me feeling vulnerable and anxious.”


Myths of recruitment

Sajid Javid announced his recovery plan promising a huge NHS recruitment campaign.

He said there’d be 10,000 more nurses—recruited from overseas—and 5,000 extra health care support workers to “increase capacity”. No one should believe a word of this.

Remember when Boris Johnson promised in 2019 there would be soon be 50,000 more nurses? Well, it soon turned out that figure included 19,000 existing nurses that he hoped to persuade not to leave the profession.

Or what about Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt. In 2015, he promised to add an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020. By that year the number of local doctors had actually fallen.

Then came hapless Matt Hancock. He pledged an extra 6,000 GPs by 2024-25. Yet in November last year Javid admitted to MPs that this plan had also failed.

“I’m not going to pretend we’re on track when we’re not,” he said.


Masked protesters with a large banner "58 UK GP surgeries now owned by a US health insurance giant"

Protesting against Centene privatisers in April 2021 (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Privateers cash in

Health privateers were licking their lips as the health secretary announced his plans.

They certainly won’t have to walk far to access the prime minister.

Boris Johnson this week appointed Samantha Jones to be Downing Street’s “chief operating officer”.

Jones was until last year the chief of Operose Health, the British subsidiary of US private health firm Centene.

Operose is busy trying to hoover up contracts to run health centres and GP surgeries across Britain.

Once taken over, the NHS staff and patients suddenly find themselves in the private sector without anyone having consulted them.

That, apparently, is the real meaning of Tory “choice” in healthcare.

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