The NHS Needs Real Solidarity

Today marks the 72nd Birthday of the National Health Service. It officially came into operation at midnight on the 4th of July 1948 and was the first completely free healthcare that was made available anywhere in the world on the basis of citizenship instead of through fees or insurances. It came at a time when the infant mortality rate for children less than 1 year old in Britain was around 1 in 20. Every year saw thousands die of infectious diseases like tuberculosis, diphtheria, meningitis, polio, and pneumonia. There is a common perception that the NHS was gifted to working people by the altruistic tendencies of the ruling political elites. This is simply not true. The creation of state medical services was a hot topic for debate within the Trade Union Council since the early 1890’s. With the incredible popularity of the Labour Party- which became an official party in 1906- and the massive rise in trade union activity around the same time, the two big-business parties now had to seriously address the concerns of the working class.

In an attempt to stop workers from flocking to the newly formed Labour party the Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer of the time, Lloyd George, introduced the National Health Insurance Act in 1911. This act meant that lower paid workers had medical insurance as long as they paid fourpence a week. They had free access to a GP, medicine, and sickness benefit but it did not include dentistry, opticians, artificial limbs, x-rays, or any other kind of hospital treatment. Crucially, it also did not extend to unwaged workers or women and children. Understandably many workers were not pleased with the bill as it did not go far enough. The Leader of the Labour Party, Keir Hardie, had this to say on its introduction:

‘What was the answer received when a minimum wage of thirty shillings for all and eight shillings per day was demanded for those who worked underground in unhealthy conditions? No, say the Liberals, but we will give you an Insurance Bill. We shall not uproot the cause of poverty, but we will give you a porous plaster to cover the disease that poverty causes.’

From the passing of this Act to the introduction of the NHS as we know it today, there was a period of great tension between the working class and the ruling class; a back and forth of pressure from the working class and the political parties trying to placate them just enough that they would stop striking and pushing for social change. Around 1944 Tory health ministers started to put forward various plans for a National Health Service in response to the Beveridge Report and the worry of a demoralised workforce during the Second World War. There was no detail included as to when anything would be done and so the Labour Party came to power in 1945 in a wave of support. There was dancing in the streets and the Labour Party sang the Red Flag in the House of Commons.

Aneurin Bevan was appointed as minister of health and set out to organise the new NHS. Private practice was never fully disbanded, but healthcare was now available to anyone that needed it.

The NHS has faced difficulty since its inception. The Tory party has always tried to starve it and bring back more privatisation; in the early 70’s the only way the Tory government was willing to spend money on new facilities was by lowering the pay of the already low paid health workers; in the 80’s Margaret Thatcher would oversee massive cuts in public spending, a privatisation of many nationalised industries and a significant drop in funding for the NHS; hospitals were taken out of the control of district health authorities and run by trusts; an internal market was established, meaning that some parts of the NHS purchased services while other parts provided them. This effectively ended co-operation between districts. Between 1989 and 1992, an extra 30,000 administrators were hired for the NHS and the number of nurses fell by 26,000.

All of these decisions contributed greatly to the defeat of the Tory party in 1997. Tony Blair famously proclaimed in his campaign that he would save the NHS, but instead would only continue the process started by Thatcher as soon as he got into power. This new Labour stopped defending a publicly run welfare state and continued Tory spending plans for 2 years. Bit by bit, parts of the NHS have been given away to private companies. Starting in the early 2000’s, any new hospital that was constructed was owned privately and then hired out to the NHS with guaranteed profits for 30 years or more. Interest payments increased to as high as 16% and according to the trade union Unite private companies were estimated to have made £23 billion in profit over the length of their contracts.

This creeping privatisation has never ended. Back-door deals are constantly made to try and privatise more of the industry. Hospitals are even attempting to set up separate private companies to then hire cleaning staff and porters so that they can pay them lower wages and give them more unsociable hours.

All of this has meant a drop in the quality of outcomes, which the major parties use to sour public opinion on the NHS so that they can claim that people deserve “options”- which just means that they get redirected to private practices.

The current pandemic has been a clear indicator of the attitudes the modern political elites have towards the NHS. Supplying PPE has been an utter shambles, with frontline NHS workers only having surgical masks when dealing with seriously sick Covid-19 patients. The health secretary Matt Hancock simply urged NHS staff to stop overusing PPE and refused to discuss the potential of increasing the wages for the NHS staff that fully deserve it. Instead he claimed that nurses have already had a pay rise and so do not need one, a claim for which he has been roundly criticised. In reality, the findings of the independent fact-checking charity Full Fact make clear that nurses in 2020 are worse off than they were in 2010, as their wages have not kept up with inflation.

Around 200 NHS and social care staff have died due to coronavirus. As a people we seem to be perfectly happy to shower these workers in empty gestures and praise but do not push for any real change or recompense for the risks they take to care for us. If you really want to support the amazing staff of the NHS stop voting for the Tory Party and, just as the workers of the past did, show your solidarity by putting pressure on the government and refusing to back down. If the past teaches anything, it’s that progress can come when we speak out as one against injustice.

Pandemic Perspective: The Cuban Healthcare Effort

It has been interesting to see how the different governing bodies across the world have responded to the outbreak of a global pandemic. Some have handled it better than others, and despite what your government has been telling you, the worst responses have come from some of the most “developed” countries in the world. So concerned with maintaining capital that measures have been slow and relaxed, and when compared to more socialised countries such as Cuba and Vietnam it really highlights some of the glaring issues with the structure of countries like the U.S and the U.K regardless of some of the helpful policies that have been introduced.

If the only information you have about Cuba has come from a mainstream western media perspective, it wouldn’t be surprising if you thought of them as a country ruined by a brutal communist dictator in Fidel Castro, a nation that can’t look after its people. Western reporting on Cuba has been very selective since the success of the revolution on January 1st 1959. Castro and his revolutionaries overthrew the President (Dictator) Fulgencio Batista, a man backed by the United States, who had turned Cuba in to a police state, stripping the people of all of their rights and causing the death of around 20,000 Cubans over the course of 7 years. A higher percentage of the Cuban population than what was lost by the United States in both World Wars.

There has also been a lot of criticism of the new government in Cuba. They have shown a propensity for violence in maintaining control and within the country the people that oppose them call themselves ‘Dissidents’, advocating for capitalist systems to return to the country and pointing to the governments own restriction on civil liberties. Many outside news sources do point to facts but very rarely give any context (such as Cuba being constantly under attack by a large aggressive power in the United States, who has shown it will go to extreme lengths to overthrow unfriendly regimes.) They also give Dissidents more of a voice than they seem to hold with average Cuban civilians. This is evident in one of the many U.S cables released by Wikileaks that stated “We see very little evidence that the mainline dissident organisations have much resonance among ordinary Cubans.” This seems evident in this really interesting article from Al Jazeera reporter Ed Augustin written just after the death of Castro, he writes, “Even Cubans who hate the Castros joke that the first thing the Ladies in White (Dissident human rights protesters) do after their weekly protest is go to the shopping mall to spend the money they’ve been sent from Miami.”

Indeed coverage of Cuba has always been through a political lens but lets bring it back to the modern day, the pandemic we face, and lets simply look at the facts of the situation. You may be wondering why Cuba seems so well equipped to help with this global outbreak. It all started after a bad outbreak of the dengue virus in 1981 on the island. In spite of the trade embargo placed on Cuba by the United States they were still able to send doctors out to other countries to do medical research and soon started developing in the biotech industry. More specifically they began producing Interferons. Interferons are ‘signalling’ proteins released by cells in response to infection to warn other cells to heighten their anti-viral defenses. Through the years a lot of research has been done on these proteins and they have been shown to drastically reduce the effects of viruses and even attack tumours in mice.

So after successfully minimising the dengue outbreak and decades of top quality research and practice, the Cuban medical sector is most likely the best equipped in the world to deal with a pandemic. They have not only looked after their own people but have a policy of wanting to unite the people of the world, especially in the face of this crisis. They have been working closely with China and Italy has been one of the first countries to accept their help in trying to stem the spread of Covid-19 and the small Caribbean nation have offered many more countries aid in battling the virus. They even allowed a British cruise ship to dock on their shores after the U.S refused it sanctuary. There was no Cubans on board and allowing the ship to dock put the Cuban people at risk but they acted selflessly in an effort to help those that need it. They continue to be world leaders in battling the spread of the virus and now have doctors in many countries along with China and Russia to do whatever they can to help the world.

It is clear that the capital obsessed super powers of this world are trying to downplay the severity of the virus and, in the case of America, are even trying to convince their workers to put themselves at risk for the sake of the man made construct known as the “economy”. We should instead look to countries such as Cuba that have been a guiding light in dark times, to show us that as the human race we are capable of denying the ‘dog eat dog’ mentality of capitalist society and should put more importance on the value of every life over the unrealistic necessity of capitalism of constant economic growth and profit motives of the few that own the means of production.