From the TUC

A Happy New Year for the NHS?

21 Dec 2015, by in Public services

There’s no doubt about it, the last 12 months have been a bumpy ride for our National Health Service. Will 2016 be any better?

A year that started off with the government negotiating its way out of a bout of unprecedented industrial action involving NHS workers in England from nurses and midwives to paramedics and radiographers, ended with it facing historic strike action by junior doctors.

Throughout 2015 the financial crisis deepened as providers ran up deficits approaching £2bn by the end of the year, with an increasingly adverse effect on quality of services – from cancer care to A&E waiting times – despite the best efforts of fantastic NHS staff.

And the government remained blindingly devoted to its love of privatisation despite all the evidence pointing to failure of the health service market, with Circle withdrawing from Hinchingbrooke Hospital, the embarrassing collapse of UnitingCare’s £800m contract for older people’s and adult community healthcare in Cambridgeshire after just eight months and increasing voices from within the sector highlighting how Lansley’s market reforms are acting as a barrier to the integration and innovation that are central to the NHS’s future.

As Frances O’Grady, our General Secretary, noted just last week – this is a crisis of the government’ own making. Locked into a decade of unprecedented austerity, with annual average real terms increases of around just 1 per cent, the NHS is being squeezed within an inch of its life. Last month’s OECD report last month showed just how far behind the UK is falling in terms of investing in its health service as a proportion of GDP.

No wonder that the biggest headline in the week before Christmas is that over 90 per cent of hospitals are failing to recruit enough nurses to cover their wards properly.

So will 2016 be much better?

Well the Spending Review has delivered around £4bn of up front funding that, in the words of health blogger Roy Lilley will:

“allow the NHS to keep the lights on, pay the bills and if we are lucky, invest in turning the vanguards (new models of care pilots) into operational, replicable, scaleable reality.”

But Jeremy Hunt’s rhetoric of more GPs, consultants and nurses delivering 7 Day Services remains a fantasy without the right level of resource, which after the initial Spending Review boost begins to wither very quickly over the course of the next 5 years.

Meanwhile few remain convinced that the £22bn efficiency savings that are central to Simon Stevens’ 5 Year Plan are achievable – with NHS providers in open revolt about further reductions in tariffs and another five years of pay restraint turning increasing numbers of health staff seeking work outside the NHS or abroad.

With further huge cuts to local government impacting on social care and public health, don’t expect demand for either GP or hospital services to subside in the near future.

And industrial relations remain on a knife-edge with the junior doctors’ dispute far from resolved, sensitive negotiations over the future of Agenda for Change terms and conditions and an offer on new consultants’ contracts yet to be made.

I genuinely wish I had a more positive spin to put in on it. Maybe I should have some of what the Department of Health’s press office are on. But I fear the next 12 months are going to look an awful lot like the last 12 months.

Which is why we need to support our health service workers and their unions more in their fight to defend everything the NHS stands for.

And if you want a counter to my pessimism for 2016, one very positive way you can show your support for the NHS is by helping get it to number 1 in the Christmas charts.

The Lewisham and Greenwich NHS choir are currently riding high in the charts with their Coldplay/Simon & Garfunkel mashup, Bridge Over You, aiming to raise awareness of the NHS crisis with the blaze of publicity a Christmas number one would bring.

Latest news is they’re ahead of the X Factor, but just behind Justin Bieber. Getting the NHS some airplay is worth 99p of anyone’s money, surely – whether you’re doing it for the NHS, or just to keep Justin Bieber off the top spot.

So get your downloads of the single on Google or iTunes, and find out more about the NHS chart bid at the campaign’s site.