Striking health workers lead fight to save our NHS

by James Ivens, London Socialist Party

“I think we are confident we are providing the NHS with the funding it needs,” says the prime minister’s spokesperson. Meanwhile, people die in their thousands waiting for treatment.

Our only hope is the working class — fighting on the wards to save our lives, fighting on the picket lines to save our health service.

When I pitched up in a south Wales A&E to sit with an injured friend in December, he’d already been there seven hours. We waited another eight. The consultant told him other doctors might have just sent him home — but as it turned out, he was bleeding inside his skull.

NHS Strike
Photo: Socialist Party

We need more pay, more staff, more beds. Rishi Sunak says we can’t afford any more. But by Thursday 5 January, the average FTSE 100 chief exec had already hoovered up more than the average worker will earn all year. Worldwide, last year set a record for superyacht orders — end to end, five times the height of Everest.

Meanwhile, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine estimates “somewhere between 300 and 500 people are dying as a consequence of delays and problems with urgent and emergency care each week.” Patients and staff alike are traumatised, or worse.

Emergency departments in Gloucestershire and Shropshire have just appealed for patients to stay away “unless it’s a life-threatening condition”. This is more than the ‘normal’ winter crisis.

Running the 8am phone gauntlet for GP appointments is a saga with more indefinite queues for treatment at the end. Ambulances don’t come, A&E is a campsite, and waits for elective treatments can stretch out for years. We can’t resolve this by waiting.

The striking nurses and ambulance workers, demanding pay they can live on, are standard bearers for the fight we all face. They mustn’t be left to fight alone.

Other health unions need to campaign to win ballots to join the action. And the unions in all sectors need to concentrate their forces against this killer Tory government: build towards a 24-hour general strike.

Take money off super-rich to fund NHS

A striking paramedic in East London told me she had recently attended an older woman who had fallen the day before. It’s now common for the morning shift still to be dealing with yesterday afternoon’s emergencies.

She might have avoided hospital if the ambulance could have got to her the same day. After a night on the floor on her own, no chance. The queues at each point in the NHS make those who are waiting sicker, resulting in greater needs and longer queues.

It’s a downward spiral in provision. Added to that, new paramedics take longer to train. If you’re stuck in a queue outside A&E your whole shift, what are you learning?

Inside, patients are gridlocked while staff pelt around in top gear. No wonder NHS sickness rates are well above the national average, with stress, anxiety and depression the leading causes.

This is not some incidental consequence of the winter flu and Covid ‘twindemic’. This crisis, and the pandemic before, reveals the underlying weakness of the NHS as it is.

Tory and Labour governments replaced centralised planning with market competition, and public funding with cuts and private debt. The NHS needs more resources and coordination, not less! Fight to take the money off the super-rich, and for democratic control and planning by staff and patients.

There’s not enough beds. UK spending on health infrastructure is about half the average of similar wealthy nations as a share of GDP. Argentina, a so-called emerging economy, has twice as many beds per person!

There’s not enough staff for those beds. Real living wages with inflation-proof rises; scrapping student debt; paying for more staff on duty to reduce workloads, sickness and resignations – that’s the solution.


Renationalise the private contracts under democratic working-class control, and take the money-grubbing pharmaceuticals too — with no compensation paid to the rich. Scrap ‘PFI’ debts — some hospitals spend more on those than drugs!

Tory MPs are divided on the NHS strikes, sensing their apocalypse of a general election soon. The strikes should exploit that. But the Labour government-in-waiting proposes funnelling more money to private hospitals, and replacing wards with homecare by overworked families, while clinicians check patients remotely.

The working class needs its own, new, mass political party to rebuild the NHS.

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