NHS birthday protests
The NHS has turned 70, sparking large-scale public protests at the level of underfunding and privatisation of England’s national health service.
On July 5, 1948, Britain’s then Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan (from Labour’s post-war government of Clement Attlee) launched the National Health Service at Manchester’s Park Hospital.
That hospital is now known as Trafford General Hospital and the National Health Service simply as the NHS.
On its 70th birthday this month, tens of thousands of patients, public and NHS staff marched on Westminster in protest at the state of the service.
Although UK’s current Conservative Party Government has pledged another £20 billion (Aus$35.8 billion) to the NHS over the next four years, the growing concern is that much of that money will be given to private companies.
During the 2016-17 financial year, a total of £7.1 billion was given to private companies for NHS clinical contracts. Since 2013, a massive £25 billion has been awarded to non-NHS providers through a tendering process allowed under the Health and Social Care Act, which came into force that year.
Analytic studies are revealing increasing problems with the private sector services being provided, causing alarm among patients and political watchers.
Accounts of patient neglect, mismanagement, and endless waiting periods are reported daily.
Outsourcing of NHS services remains highly controversial.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for an end to privatisation and for NHS staff not to be sub-contracted to private companies.
He addressed the protesting crowds, suggesting that profits sometimes end up in international tax havens.
“I don’t pay my taxes for someone to rip off the public and squirrel the profits away,” he said.
Prime Minister Theresa May has defended the NHS, hailing it as a huge success and insisting its future was secured with the extra government funding.
Protests were held around the same time of a service of celebration at Westminster Abbey for NHS staff, as well as thousands of tea parties around the country to mark the 70th anniversary.
Yet while some politicians, staff and patients hailed the NHS as a “unifying ideal” for the British people, critics demanded answers to the system’s management failures and funding shortfalls.
The official line celebrating the milestone, stated on the NHS70 website, is: “Over the last 70 years, the NHS has transformed the health and wellbeing of the nation and become the envy of the world.
“The NHS has delivered huge medical advances and improvements to public health, meaning we can all expect to live longer lives.
“It is thanks to the NHS that we have all but eradicated diseases such as polio and diphtheria, and pioneered new treatments like the world’s first liver, heart and lung transplant.
“In more recent times, we have seen innovations like mechanical thrombectomy to improve stroke survival, bionic eyes to restore sight, and surgical breakthroughs such as hand transplants.”