Tory cuts: if you have encountered any of the #NHSLove brigade on Twitter, you will surely be familiar with this recurrent claim. The claim is that the NHS is only suffering because it is underfunded. In fact, you do not need to be familiar with Twitter at all in order to have heard this. Simply speak to many members of NHS staff on the ground, or to Jeremy Corbyn and the rest of his party. Our health service needs more money.
At face value, this does not seem an outlandish claim. Underfunding can seriously detriment any institution or service. As well as being a plausible explanation, it is also an easy explanation for pressing problems, such as overworked staff or diminishing resources. It does seem to make sense, and it serves as a very successful political bargaining chip. But surely, it must be more than that, if we hear these very words from NHS nurses and ambulance crews, for instance.
This seems a reasonable approach. NHS workers seem to agree that the health service budget is insufficient. But ask what that budget should be, of activist or employee alike, and get no clear answer in response. £1bn? £5bn? £750m? Alright, I can concede that an average NHS worker – as with an employee of any other institution – may not know what a reasonable budget may be for their employer. Whatever it is, it is surely far from enough. That much is made clear.
Except that it isn’t. The NHS budget for this year is £120bn. That means that over £300m is allocated to the NHS per day – not per month, not per quarter, but per day. Next year, it is set to increase by another £8bn. Funding is certainly not decreasing.
But does that matter? Rising or falling, insufficient funds are still insufficient. Wages, for instance, are said to be appallingly low, given the work that our health service professionals do for our sakes. £47bn goes towards the wages of NHS staff. This seems like plenty, but it is to be divided between a grand total of 1.5 million NHS employees. Ignoring the higher wages of more seasoned or senior employees, that gives everyone a salary of around £31,000 per annum. This is a very nice salary for, say, a hospital cleaner, or a receptionist, but not for the Chief Nursing Officer, or a National Clinical Director, or a neurosurgeon. In order to increase wages, we would have to make cuts to an NHS service.
So, the NHS is not being cut by the ever-wicked Tories. It is still faced with the threat of privatisation at the hands of the Conservatives – who obviously seek to blindly privatise everything – is it not?
It is not. The NHS faces a budget drain of £2bn per year, and has an enormous debt of £300bn, due to £60bn worth of PFI loans. The scheme was introduced in 1992 under a Conservative government, but was furthered greatly by Sir John Major, under a Labour government in 1997. All but one single PFI hospital-building arrangement were signed off by Labour. The scheme was then used to build extensions to hospitals, as well as new buildings. This means that private companies bear the financial burden and risk of the construction of these new projects and buildings, and are repaid over a period of years. These PFI deals financed almost £12bn worth of new NHS buildings in England – but they will cost the NHS £79bn over the next three decades. This is equivalent to every household across the UK paying in about £4,000.
In conclusion, the truth of the matter is that no NHS cuts are taking place. Our health service faces the struggles of inadequate care, space and staff, but throwing more money at the situation is not going to miraculously resolve all of this. In fact, it will go towards paying the private companies by which Labour oversaw the NHS being financed. The NHS does face problems – but underfunding is not one of them.