In common with most people I applaud the bravery and professionalism of all our NHS workers, and not just during the current crisis. As a child of the early 1950s it’s no exaggeration to say I wouldn’t be here without the ‘National Health’.

But before everyone takes to balconies and doorsteps to applaud again perhaps we might consider why? Because beyond the undoubted morale-boosting affect of participation what is arguably taking place is an act of political dissonance, a collective self-delusion.

When the Covid-19 emergency began, the NHS was already on its knees, weakened by 10 years of austerity and underinvestment, a catalogue of horrors including: 

• The creation of a ludicrous internal market in a not-for-profit, ‘free at the point of delivery’ public service 
• A hostile environment for overseas workers
• Piecemeal privatisation
• Increasing tiers of ‘management’
• Removal of nursing bursaries
• The PFI hospital building programme… 

Not accidentally but as ideologically-motivated political decisions based on free-market extremism, leading me to question how those waving banners and shouting support on recent Thursdays voted in the last few elections?

I’m not suggesting anyone goes to the ballot box to deliberately damage our health system. However it seems – at a charitable interpretation – much of the electorate didn’t bother to read the small print regarding policy. Wittingly or otherwise, anyone voting either Tory or Lib Dem (no, the coalition hasn’t yet been forgotten) indirectly supported funding cuts. As a matter of historical record, the Conservative party voted against the National Health bill in the Commons in 1946 and renewed their attack on the post-war consensus during the Thatcher years. After cynically blaming post-2008 austerity on public spending rather than bankers’ irresponsibility and tax avoidance, the NHS was never going to be safe in Tory hands.

When the pandemic is finally over we can fully investigate the lack of protective equipment, insufficient hospital beds, dearth of ventilators, testing failures and unnecessary deaths of NHS workers. Then perhaps rather than waving and hanging banners people might think harder and take some personal responsibility for political outcomes before voting?

Dave Young is HIP’s Health and Environment Co-Editor

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