HEALTH workers announcing work stoppages in the new year have been left with no choice but to strike.
Years of pay freezes have seen wages in the NHS fall far behind inflation. Chronic understaffing sees nurses forced to work through breaks and put in overtime on a regular basis.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt shows his appreciation of their hard work by denying them even the below-inflation 1 per cent increase recommended by the independent Pay Review Body this year.
Despite a handful of high-profile failings such as the poor care and high mortality rates at Mid Staffs — itself partly blamed by inquiry chairman Robert Francis QC on understaffing — which have been shamelessly used by the Tories and the right-wing media to undermine it, the NHS remains Britain’s most valued public service.
Thatcher’s Chancellor Nigel Lawson called it “the closest thing the British have to a national religion.”
Lawson’s comment reflects the resentment of a privatising Tory who understood that people in this country would not stand for the sell-off of their health service.
In fact people love the NHS because it is one of this country’s greatest success stories. Few other countries on Earth besides Cuba have a universal health service that provides such high-quality treatment for everyone who needs it, irrespective of what they can pay.
The efforts of rags like the Daily Mail to popularise the image of cruel and callous nurses who neglect or abuse their patients cannot dent the reality of a dedicated, hard-working staff who move heaven and Earth on a daily basis to keep the health service running.
Polls have repeatedly shown — most recently in research by the Association of Accounting Technicians in November — that doctors and nurses are the most trusted professions in the country (alongside teachers and firefighters, interestingly — two more of the government’s betes noires.)
Politicians, by contrast, were rated the second-least trustworthy, only beaten in the unpopularity stakes by the bankers whose agenda they implement.
Small wonder then that ministers have avoided the incendiary demonisation that marks their usual response to working people standing up for themselves.
Instead they seek to obfuscate, claiming that a 1 per cent pay rise is so unaffordable it would put thousands of jobs at risk.
The real reasons for the crisis in NHS funding — the demand for £20 billion in “efficiency savings” from a supposedly ring-fenced budget, the colossal costs of repaying private finance initiative loans forced on hospitals and the billions wasted on Andrew Lansley’s privatising “reforms” — are not raised.
Our health service and the staff who deliver it are being run into the ground. NHS workers deserve their pay rise. They are right to fight for it.
Qatar and Blatter
FIFA’S belated decision to publish the Michael Garcia report into alleged corruption in the process that secured the 2018 and 2022 World Cups for Russia and Qatar is welcome.
However, Sepp Blatter’s insistence that whatever the report says, the decision to allocate the events to those countries will not be revisited makes commissioning it in the first place somewhat pointless.
Qatar’s World Cup in particular is steeped in the blood of the thousands of impoverished migrant workers drafted in to construct its stadiums. The unacceptable frequency of workplace deaths, the barbarity of Qatari rules depriving migrant workers of the most basic rights such as the ability to change employer and the misery and squalor in which these people are forced to live is a scandal.
GMB’s Justin Bowden noted at this year’s TUC that in Fifa, the tiny Gulf dictatorship had found “a partner as rotten as them.” Mr Blatter’s obstinacy confirms that analysis.