As the 70th birthday of the NHS approaches the government has tried to distract from its Brexit woes by hijacking the Leave campaign′s transparently fake ″£350 million a week for the NHS after Brexit″ claim.
Theresa May has announced an extra £20 billion a year for the NHS by 2023. The funding increase is not insignificant. Health think-tank The Kings Fund said, ″The Prime Minister has administered a welcome shot in the arm that will get the NHS back on its feet but not provided the long term cure that would restore it to full health″. However, it also said, ″[the increase] falls short of the 4 per cent annual increases we argued are needed.″
The government claims that an unspecified amount of the proposed funding increase will come from the so-called ″Brexit dividend″ — the money the government will save as a consequence of leaving the EU. But the ″Brexit dividend″ is widely considered to be fictitious.
The Institute of Fiscal Affairs pointed out that ″by the government’s own estimates, Brexit-related reduction in GDP growth is costing £350 million per week, or an annual £15 billion.″ Add that to the ″divorce bill″ and commitments the government has made to replace EU funding or subsidies in key industries, and it seems like pure fantasy that Brexit could make any contribution to NHS funding.
The government has hinted that increases in taxation will have to form some part of the increased funding, but has yet to spell this out. Increased taxation for who? No Tory government is going to make a serious grab for the stores of wealth in society, for example laws which till tackle tax havens, or tax increases on the vast wealth of the ultra rich. Such measures could meet May′s funding promises, and many times over. Even on current tax rates, the PCS civil service workers’ union estimates a “tax gap” of £120 billion a year caused by avoided, evaded and uncollected tax.
But the problems the NHS are facing do not start and end with funding. Costs associated with PFI debt are rising to crippling levels: St Bartholomew’s and the Royal London hospitals pay over £2 million a week in PFI debt interest alone.
The proportion of the NHS wages bill being spent on agency staff is growing, and this is likely to be exacerbated by EU health workers leaving the UK because of Brexit.
Private contracts covering services ranging from cleaning and catering, to patient transport, and even GP out-of-hours services and diagnostic services (such as scans or blood tests) are also a drain on the service.
Increasing funding without solving these structural issues will mean pouring money into the private sector, and won’t improve patient care.
On 30 June many thousands will march for the NHS. In February last year (2017) huge crowds turned out for a similar NHS march. This issue mobilises large numbers of people because we all care about and fear for the future of the NHS.
The Labour Party could easily, and should, call a national demonstration for the NHS in its own name. The government now feels under enough pressure on this issue to increase funding. Labour and the unions must go on the offensive and demand adequate funding, reverse the cuts, scrapping the PFI.
Tax the rich to pay for the NHS!