Despite the coronavirus crisis concocting feelings of national wartime unity across the country, we must not stop asking the government to deliver on basic promises.
The phrase “give more money to the NHS” is the first item on any politician’s shopping list of must-include phrases for a media appearance. Something regurgitated to the public relentlessly in a campaign to win votes, the phrase has become so frivolous, whether spoken or plastered on the side of a bus, we are almost immune to its promise after being left disappointed following too many elections past.
The funding of our treasured NHS has always been something associated with the government, a discussion within the realms of politicians in Westminster or Holyrood. But now that idea lives in the past, back in the unthinkable time when we were not locked in our houses for fear of a deadly virus sweeping the globe. In this new normal, people have taken it upon themselves to “fund our NHS”, encouraging their peers to do the same. Instagram is flooded with stories of the “Run For Heroes” challenge – in which if nominated, one is challenged to run 5K, donate £5 to NHS Charities Together and then nominate 5 others to do the same. According to their website, at the time of writing, approximately £5.2m has been raised, achieving the £5m target originally set. Not forgetting Captain Tom Moore, the now 100-year-old war veteran selflessly doing laps of his back garden to donate to the cause, who has currently raised a whopping £32m.
These collective national efforts will do lots to help the “heroes” – who were definitely not valued as such in pre-corona times – working on the NHS frontline. The NHS Charities Together website states the money will be used to “provide somewhere comfortable so staff and volunteers can take a break” and for “counselling to protect mental health and to help process what they are dealing with”, amongst other things. It is not the charity’s job to supply staff with PPE, but that of the government, who, judging by the constant pleas from our “heroes” who lack it, are not fulfilling their responsibility with as much enthusiasm and commitment as the public.
The government enjoy comparing this pandemic to war, with Dunkirk metaphors becoming almost as popular as NHS pledges during an election campaign. The first time I read the uses of funds raised, I couldn’t help imagine some kind of warzone in my head, with the idea of doctors and nurses not having had somewhere comfortable to sit, or going without essential counselling following their trauma, had it been left to the government. Maybe it is not too crazy a comparison to make then, with the idea of a charity having to provide the doctors and nurses with counselling support ringing parallels with the many young working-class men sent to fight wars in the Middle East, returning with PTSD and lacking proper support from the state they fought for.
But this is not a warzone. This is one of the richest countries in the world. If I were a Tory MP, I’m not sure I could sleep at night knowing my austerity policies had left public services so drained that a 100-year-old veteran was hauling himself up and down his garden to get proper support to the “heroes” for whom I unashamedly clapped every Thursday. All the while having also clapped and cheered the defeat of the prospect of them getting a pay rise not too long ago. Not to mention other public service workers – design and technology teachers – having to construct PPE equipment to donate to hospitals, which is the part that is supposed to be my responsibility. Boris Johnson, the poster boy of Brexit, praising a Portuguese nurse who cared for him tangles itself in irony, considering his harsh position on immigration policies is what pushed him to election victory only a few months prior.
The public efforts are clearly well-intentioned and the services they are enabling the provision of are deserved and necessary, as is the respect being shown to frontline workers. I do, however, think taxpayers should question why they are having to help provide these services. It is the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens, ultimately to keep these people safe at work. We cannot allow mushy feelings about national unity that supporting the NHS has brought to stop us asking important questions of the government, like why many of their “heroes” still lack adequate PPE and the ironies that their praise of the NHS brings. We cannot forget the real attitudes beneath the masks (PPE or figurative) of politicians who have continuously voted to the detriment of the NHS. Despite the good intentions and positive wishes, this is still a political issue, and the NHS is political, not some fuzzy national symbol, as it is a matter of life or death for so many. And the most important thing to remember of all – the NHS is not a charity. Not now and not ever.