Home Top Global NewsHealthcare Sunak is the ‘too little, too late’ PM. That’s why he’s failing over the NHS and this wave of strikes | Gaby Hinsliff

Sunak is the ‘too little, too late’ PM. That’s why he’s failing over the NHS and this wave of strikes | Gaby Hinsliff

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Sunak is the ‘too little, too late’ PM. That’s why he’s failing over the NHS and this wave of strikes | Gaby Hinsliff

When Dan Goyal’s father was dying of Covid and his family couldn’t get into the room, a health care attendant sat stroking his hair all the way.

She risked her own life so a man wouldn’t die alone. When Dr Goyal, an NHS consultant and researcher, he tweeted about that experience this week, it sparked a flurry of stories from healthcare workers going above and beyond, from nurses canceling vacations to stay with their patients to small acts of thoughtfulness that meant everything at that particular moment. I don’t know what the woman who took care of Goyal’s father earned. But the range for Band 2 nursing staff, which would normally include healthcare assistants, is £10.37 to £10.90 per hour.

Aldi just hit their minimum fee up to £11 since January. No wonder the Commons health select committee, chaired at the time by Jeremy Hunt, who is of course now chancellor, heard this year that health and care providers “they fear hearing Aldi open nearby”, because they know they are going to lose people. That was third upload this year at the supermarket chain, whose staff were also on the front lines of the pandemic. Nurses, for their part, win 5.9% less in real terms than in 2010-11. Where would you feel most valued?

You can’t run a health service like this, and everyone knows it, which is why the government will eventually have to come to some sort of deal. If nothing else, the political price for resisting in a situation where lives are in danger is too high. More broadly, as a Opinion poll For the Compassion in Politics think tank confirmed this week, people are now more inclined to blame the government than the unions for this winter’s wave of strikes in sectors ranging from rail to the Royal Mail and the Border Force.

The argument by NHS workers that they are protesting, at least in part, the care patients receive resonates with the experience of far too many people. Many families, including mine, have had that awful conversation about whether it’s better to wait for an ambulance that could take hours or just get in the car and drive, even on non-strike days. We understand that paramedics are just as upset as everyone else about sitting helplessly in ambulances lining up outside A&E; It’s not just the pay, but the sense of moral damage, the horrible feeling that people are going to die because you are incapable of helping them, that causes demoralized staff to quit.

The more people leave, the worse it gets, and the more others want to leave. Once that vicious circle is established, refusing to talk to unions doesn’t seem difficult; It seems like an abdication of duty. But Rishi Sunak can’t seem to make the leap from his old role as chancellor, prepared to set a budget and defend it, to that of prime minister, whose job it is to recognize when you just have to break everything. He, too, could make the most of it and focus on what taxpayers, many of whom are also fighting, will get in exchange for potentially millions more spent on health and social care in years to come.

The kind of money needed to cure what’s really ailing the NHS doesn’t just come out of thin air, and it can’t come from popular hits like Labor proposals to tax non-doms anyone. If we’re going to do this, we had better do it right, which means not just covering this winter with a Band-Aid, but opening a bigger can of worms about how the NHS and social care will cope in the coming years with the needs of an aging population, as well as advances at the limits of what is medically possible.

That could mean shifting care wherever possible from (expensive) hospitals to the community, focusing on preventing chronic illnesses from turning into acute, life-threatening admissions, re-examining divisions among health care professions they determine who does what and eventually face the dreaded problem of how to finance long-term care. Britain needs a national conversation about money and reform, which requires taking back the last word from those who think (or in some cases hope) that it is synonymous with privatization or abandoning the principle of tax financing. If progressives can’t argue that change can sometimes be for the better, who will?

It certainly doesn’t come from the government. Sunak approaches a crisis in a deeper and more serious way than his predecessors, but he tends to arrive at the right answer too late. He still lacks the political gift of figuring out where history is moving and taking charge of it.

But Wes Streeting has it. The shadow health secretary has already skipped a few pages further, suggesting that under Labor more money would come for the NHS with “modernisation” attached to it. Awkward headlines about the war on the British Medical Association obscured a more sensible message about focusing more on prevention, early intervention and the use of technology. Streeting is a kidney cancer survivor, and while he is deeply grateful for the care he received, he is not optimistic about it; recently revealed that he had waited months for a long overdue scan to confirm that her cancer was gone, only to face another frustrating wait for results.

What he says agrees with the work of involve britain, a charity set up to engage the public in health care debates through a series of citizens’ jury-style conversations, which concluded that while many think the NHS is brilliant in a crisis and that the staff often works miracles, love is not blind. Relatively small, preventable lapses in communication—loss of records, patients not being heard, unexplained delays, and sometimes byzantine bureaucracy—can have outsized consequences for patients. As Engage Britain put it, “deep affection for the ethos of the NHS, particularly its commitment to providing free treatment at the point of need, should not be confused with satisfaction with the way it operates… people reported feeling abandoned , alone, without knowing where to go and not being able to access the services they need”.

To take just one small example of what that means in practice, I happened to spend much of this week interviewing middle-aged women who suffered serious health problems during menopause, most of whose GPs didn’t initially connect the dots. One spent four miserable years jumping from one pillar to another, suffering needlessly and unable to do her job, accruing what she pointed out must have been considerable costs to the taxpayer before finally getting what she needed. It would be ridiculous to argue that there are no things that National Health Service it could do better, while remaining true to its founding ethos. So now a salary deal must be made, quickly and generously. But that should be the beginning, not the end, of this new chapter in the long and cherished history of the NHS.

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