The party that founded the NHS will have to save it again

To keep saving lives we need to save the NHS,” says an advert from the Unison public service union defending its strikes. A few years ago, such a message would have cut little ice with the public, but today it is wholly credible: the industrial action is not just about pay, but the sickly state of the NHS.

The stoppages by nurses and ambulance staff posed an uncomfortable question for ministers: on non-strike days, the service was already swamped, so could anyone tell the difference? Ambulance workers can spend an entire shift waiting in line at an accident and emergency department, while A&E doctors can return to work after 12 hours off to find the same patients queueing.

Some right-wing Conservatives relish this existential crisis as a long-awaited opportunity to reform an institution they regard as a socialist, big-state creation stuck in the last century. “It’s no longer a taboo subject,” one told me. “It wasn’t possible to raise the future of the NHS during the pandemic. Now the debate has begun.”


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