By Yuri Prasad
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2845

‘War zone’ for NHS workers

The crisis in the NHS is intensifying, making protests for the health service even more important
Issue 2845
RCN picket line

Royal College of Nurses members on the picket line at University College Hospital, London. (Picture: Guy Smallman)

The crisis gripping the NHS is costing patients’ lives and destroying the morale of thousands of health workers. One crucial fact stands behind most horror stories—massive understaffing of most wards and services.

The health service is unable to fill posts because the work is now so arduous that even long-standing clinical staff are leaving in droves. All the while pay is dwindling so low as to make other jobs far more attractive.

That’s why the NHS pay strikes—including those of junior doctors set for this week—are so important. It also why it’s wrong that leaders of most unions have now decided to suspend them for “talks” with the Tories.

Two stories this week reveal just how critical the situation is. More than half of ambulance workers have seen a patient die because of delays in reaching them or ­overcrowding in A&E, according to a new survey.

Asked if they had ever ­witnessed a death that occurred because of a delay, some 53 percent of ambulance workers said they had. Another 30 percent were aware of it happening to a colleague.

One London ambulance worker told Socialist Worker that despite A&E queues now being shorter than their January peak, the effect on staff is “long term”. “The stress of the job just keeps growing and growing, and there’s no end in sight. That’s why it is so demoralising,” they said.

A similar life and death crisis is gripping maternity care. It was revealed this week that lack of staff forced four in ten maternity units to turn away women expecting a baby during the last year.

Some 38 out 142 NHS trusts said they had to close their maternity units at least once during the past year. In 2022, the number of midwives employed by the NHS in England fell by almost 300 in just two months.

Hannah, a midwife of 13 years, says that maternity units have become “genuinely terrifying places to work” and “like entering a war zone.”

“You dodge scary possibilities and consequences constantly, fearing that, any moment, something could happen which will make you lose your job—or worse, lose a mother or a baby’s life. On my worst shift, on a delivery suite, there were four of us when there should have been at least ten.”

The Tories have spent 13 years ignoring warnings of crisis. Instead they have ploughed on with a programme of cuts and privatisation. Today’s crisis is the bitter fruit of that policy.

But Keir Starmer’s Labour show little sign of wanting a clean break with the right. Already shadow health secretary Wes Streeting says there must be still more privatisation of NHS services. And, when asked whether Labour would give health workers a pay rise, Streeting can only say a Starmer government would negotiate.

With politicians united on a policy akin to bleeding the sick, this weekend’s protest is more vital than ever.

  • SOS NHS demonstration Saturday 11 March. Assemble 12 noon, Warren Street tube, Tottenham Court Road, London NW1 3AA for march to Westminster. For more information see

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