Everyone should support the healthcare strikes

Ahmad Hisham Wafai argues that supporting striking healthcare will benefit British society

Ahmad Hisham Wafai
20th February 2023
Image credit: NewcastleWorld.
Thousands of nurses and paramedics have been striking across the country over the past few months, joining workers in many other industries such as rail and education. With junior doctors balloting to strike, one wonders why healthcare professionals are not enjoying the same support for their industrial action that their peers in other industries are.

The NHS exists because of the 1946 National Health Service Act, in which the British government promised to provide residents of England and Wales with free healthcare at the point of access. Nowhere does it compel healthcare professionals to work to provide this healthcare. In fact, it is the responsibility of those in power to ensure that this is made available to the people. Many argue that it is unethical to leave helpless patients in hospitals in pursuit of higher wages, and unfairly criticise those on the frontline who are being forced to take this action. They may think it is unfortunate that they are understaffed, overworked to the point of exhaustion and underpaid to the point of starvation, but argue that it is their duty to report to work.

Nurses are only asking for decent working conditions, which any normal person would agree is a completely reasonable demand

However, as mentioned earlier, this duty does not fall upon anyone except His Majesty’s Government and the Health Secretary. We would not call it unethical for a nurse, for instance, to start working a different job or move to a different country and work outside the NHS despite having the qualifications and expertise to continue caring for patients. Yet many will continue to ostracise the nurses who do want to work for the NHS but do want to provide free healthcare for people across the nation. They are only asking for decent working conditions, which any normal person would agree is a completely reasonable demand.

Our healthcare workers' desire to live in dignity has not been wiped out

Our government is aware of this and has ensured our healthcare workers can take very little action to make their voices heard. The NHS has a complete monopoly over the training of nurses, doctors and paramedics, and so leaving it is not an option unless one wants to leave the country or switch careers. It is interesting that the General Medical Council, a statutory body given its power by our government, threatened junior doctors with being struck off back in 2016 if they went ahead with industrial action. The government has guaranteed that if you want to work to help the people of this country, you will be relegated to working in terrible conditions. But despite these efforts, our healthcare workers' desire to live in dignity has not been wiped out. And with the looming threat of them demanding what should be theirs, the government has turned to claiming the strikes are unethical.

If one ignores the fact that patient mortality did not increase during junior doctors' 2016 strike, one could argue that our altruistic healthcare workers should not stoop down to the level of the dirty, corrupt politicians that they are facing. Politicians may be willing to use vulnerable patients as pawns in this game but that does not mean that healthcare workers should play along, keep a stiff upper lip and accept “the facts of life”. Frankly, I believe that staying silent and allowing the politicians to funnel money through our NHS damages our pride far more than taking a stand against the injustices that plague our public services.

Speaking of money, one might also argue that meeting the unions' demands is simply too costly. Our politicians funnelled £37 billion through NHS Test and Trace by outsourcing contracts to their friends.. This is over three times what is needed to meet the nurses' pay demands. On the other end of the spectrum, DoctorsVote has claimed that, on average, doctors performing C-sections are paid £50 between them. Many would be mortified to learn that teams of medical professionals responsible for performing such dangerous procedures are paid only £50 for this procedure.

Make the NHS a voting priority in future elections.

So, what is the solution? We must examine our relationship with our government. Either the government is representing the democratic will of its people and so we should prepare for a future in which we are increasingly dependent on private healthcare, or we accept that this government does not represent the will of the people. If we are willing to banish politicians for sex scandals or illegal parties, then we should be willing to hold them accountable for mistreating our healthcare workers and putting such an important institution at risk.

Write to your MP. Make the NHS a voting priority in future elections. Clapping for the NHS when it suits us is not enough. Support the strikes now. If we don't, we will only have ourselves to blame when a simple hospital visit can push people into poverty.

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