Boris Johnson’s ‘freedom day’ risks pushing the NHS into crisis

Jon Trickett

The central ethos of health care through millennia has been – and is – the hippocratic oath, which gives equal value to the lives of all human beings. But Boris Johnson appears to want to ignore it. We found out that he believed it didn’t matter if those who were over 80 died from Covid. I asked the minister for social care in the Commons today to confirm the government’s commitment to the oath and to reject the rhetoric of the Prime Minister. Sadly, she refused to do either.

Let’s be clear: throughout the pandemic, Johnson’s government has had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into taking the action required to stop the spread of the virus. The UK’s failure to lockdown early in the pandemic when our European neighbours had done so has led to more than 150,000 unnecessary deaths.

Over a decade of Tory austerity saw 15,000 beds axed, 125 A&Es closed and 76,000 vacancies produced in our NHS. Our health service was already on its knees before the pandemic. Now, I am very sorry to say, it is at a crisis point.

With restrictions being lifted, there is concern that the NHS might become overwhelmed. Indeed, the NHS Confederation has said that the pressure from lifting lockdown feels “unsustainable”. The virus is spreading in all areas of the country at an alarming rate, at the precise moment in which restrictions have been lifted. Whilst the Prime Minister celebrates ‘freedom day’, our hospital wards are filling up again. The death toll is rising once more.

Even the new Health Secretary has warned that lifting restrictions could lead to cases soaring to 100,000 a day and that we could see waiting lists for treatment rise from 5.3 million to a staggering 13 million. Don’t allow the Tories to blame this on the pandemic. Remember that NHS waiting lists grew by two million under the Tories and had practically doubled before the pandemic even began.

The infection rate for those aged over 70 has tripled since June. Most worryingly, there were 153 cluster outbreaks in care homes last week. The Office for National Statistics has alerted us to the fact that those aged over 75 make up the majority of those currently hospitalised and 40% of those hospitalised have had at least one jab. The government is pursuing a course of action that they know will put the lives of UK citizens at risk, particularly the elderly and the immunocompromised.

A constituent of mine who suffers from severe chronic health issues contacted me last week to express their fears about the relaxation of restrictions. They take medication that suppresses their immune system and have been advised by specialists to abide by ‘extreme social distancing’ because infections are ripping through the community. Whilst the lifting of restrictions like face coverings and social distancing may make life easier for some people, it makes life a lot more difficult for people like my constituent. They told me that they feel people like them “have been thrown under the bus”.

Others are asking me about what this latest wave means for their elderly relatives and friends. Johnson’s comments about how the elderly can “get Covid and live longer” will add further worry to a public already traumatised and stressed as a result of the lingering pandemic.

We know that NHS staff would never take the view of the Prime Minister. They have been working non-stop on the frontline throughout the pandemic and know better than anyone just how devastating the virus has been.

At least 1,561 healthcare workers have lost their lives to coronavirus. It’s high time the government got on with the public inquiry it promised us. But my worry is that the health service is being actively pushed into crisis, which could eventually lead to clinicians having to make tough choices over resources. In one of the richest countries in the world, it is unbelievable that this state of affairs could become reality. I hope very much that it doesn’t.

The truth is that the founding principles of the NHS run contrary to the ideological views of the Conservative Party. They see our national institution as a business opportunity and people’s health as a market. It is perhaps no surprise that the Prime Minister has such a dismissive attitude to the NHS.

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