On the face of it, is today a day to celebrate the end of a long and bitter dispute?
Steve Barclay, the health minister, clearly thinks so. However, it sounds rather like a hollow laugh in an empty room. This isn’t a war that must be won or lost. This is about building a health service that is the envy of the world, where patients are treated and cared for by happy motivated staff. Sadly, this is not the health service I have worked in recently.
To impose a settlement on just under half the nursing profession doesn’t really sound like a solution to me. At the beginning of the dispute, Mr Sunak refused any form of negotiation with the unions. After they were forced to negotiate by the chaos in the NHS, the government has retained a rather macho attitude to settling an unprecedented dispute. All those Tory MPs clapping the NHS in their social media feeds. What does that amount to, when a year later, they are threatening to sack them, taking them to court and forcing them to accept a below inflation wage increase.
We have huge problems in the NHS, mostly centred on staffing levels. There are over 7 million patients waiting for operations. Stroud Maternity is closed for post natal care because of a lack of midwives.
GP surgeries cannot find doctors to cover clinics so that patients are waiting longer for doctors appointments. Last year, over 40,000 nurses left the NHS mainly because of pay and conditions, taking up better paid jobs in the private sector.
The solutions are actually quite simple. We need to train more staff, and we need to look after the staff we already have, make them feel valued and pay them a decent salary. Restoring junior doctors and nurses salaries to their 2010 level would be basic first step. Training more medical students and nurses is also essential, and can be funded by scrapping the tax dodging non-dom status used by the uber rich.
The NHS has always relied on its staff going above and beyond what they are contracted to do, because they genuinely care for their patients. This isn’t about money, but about something more important. There have been countless times I have gently forced a nurse or doctor to go home two hours after their shift has finished, as they continue to care for very ill people. This level of goodwill and compassionate care is what Mr Barclay risks losing.
After the junior doctors strike of 2016, when Jeremy Hunt imposed his deal on the profession there was a seismic shift in attitudes. I train junior doctors and although this isn’t universal, most now are strict about their contract and do not work a minute longer than they’re paid for. This isn’t a criticism of them, more a product of uncaring macho government.
Its clear that this Tory Government does not understand how to run a health service. It’s not a war, it’s a collaboration between many different parties. This pay settlement will lead to more nurses leaving the profession, a further dip in morale, and patients suffering longer waits as a result.
It seems to me that the Tories have no real faith in a state run health service. Almost all NHS staff feel the government are against them. My biggest worry is that the government is willing the service to fail, so that they can privatise it, a model that they feel much more comfortable with. They voted against its establishment in 1947 and they would love to see the back of it.
As Nye Bevan said at its inception: The NHS will survive as long as people are willing to fight for it. In Stroud, I see that spirit everywhere, from GPs, their receptionist and staff, to mental health nurses and district nurses, from physiotherapist to podiatrist, from hospital matrons to social care staff. But morale is as low as I’ve ever known it. We have a genuine fight on our hands.
Any victory celebrations by the Tory government sound a bit hollow to me.
Dr Simon Opher
Prospective parliamentary candidate for Stroud Labour Party