UK medicine under the burden of economic circumstances and government indifference
Rishi Sunak, Britain’s first prime minister of Indian origin, wanted very much to distinguish himself from his predecessor, Liz Truss. As a result of the rivalry between them, Sunak won the post of prime minister after a second attempt. Amid a severe socio-economic crisis that led to widespread public discontent and many protests, Truss stuck to the standard Tory cabinet line of fiscal austerity. It was this unwavering “principledness” that only heightened tensions in society and, in fact, was the main reason for her resignation. Seeking not to repeat Truss’s mistakes, Sunak wanted to present himself as a socially minded official but objective financial reasons, the unchanging course of his party, and his political convictions and practical steps were not favorable to these plans. In the end, it all came down to mere empty populism and attempts to increase spending in one place at the expense of even more blatant cuts in another. As a result, the British medical system has been particularly hardly hit by these experiments and manipulations.
To save the health care system from total staff cuts and hospital closures, the authorities proposed that Britons be treated “virtually”. Moreover, to freeze the crisis in the medical field, the government proposed an initiative that involves the creation of “virtual departments,” which will lead to savings on “physical” care. According to Sunak’s cabinet plan, some elderly and frail patients will receive care via video link without leaving their homes. Thus, ministers predict that with proper care, the number of emergency hospitalizations could be reduced by 20%. Rishi Sunak actively promotes this idea to show his concern for the National Health Service, which is undergoing an unprecedented crisis. He expects that more than half a million residents of the country will be able to undergo treatment in such “home hospitals” every year. However, in practice it is populism, which will not solve the basic problems of health care and will not even stop the wave of layoffs and pay cuts for doctors.
This situation began in the summer and peaked in December, when the country of Great Britain was on the brink of a general strike. At that time many unions took part in strikes, and almost 100,000 nurses joined them. Such a large-scale strike of medics the country has not known for the last 100 years: because of it the work of at least 76 hospitals was disrupted and 15,000 planned surgical operations were postponed. Doctors and nurses, like other strikers, demanded a 10-15% wage increase during the current crisis, when food inflation hit a 45-year high of 12.4%. But then the conservative government was unwilling to accommodate them, fearing that higher spending would lead to a new budget crisis. At the end of 2022, Rishi Sunak stood firm, and replaced the nurses with their military counterparts. This was immediately taken advantage of by Labor, who worked closely with the unions to push the situation to the limit and to bring the Conservatives’ rating down to its lowest levels. So far Labor has been demanding an early election where they will win by a landslide, as their lead over their opponents is consistently around 20%. Sunak had to find ways to meet the demands of the protesters, including the medics, to be able to sit in his chair at least until 2025. And so as not to violate the sacred principle of a “balanced budget,” the prime minister and his advisers came up with a plan in which some doctors could be paid out of the money they managed to save, turning their other colleagues into “virtual” ones.
Obviously, these are only temporary measures that will stabilize the situation for a few months or, at most, six months. Great Britain is facing the deepest recession among the G7 countries. The British economy could shrink by 1% in 2023, a much worse condition than in the U.S. or most EU countries. In this situation, massive injections into wage growth would “destroy” themselves, driving up inflation, and devouring the citizens’ purchasing power. 2023 could be an even tougher year for the British economy than the last one. The real incomes of Britons are predicted to fall by 3.8%, and the proportion of those below the poverty line will rise sharply. Already 37% of Britons are not confident that they can cope with an increase in their costs, even by 20 pounds a month, given that this year further increases in utility bills are planned, coupled with higher taxes. The Bank of England has admitted that the economy will not improve much before 2025. In this situation, the Sunak´s reform is a cunning move that only lulls the vigilance of healthcare professionals who fear for their future. Under the guise of progressive measures to implement virtual medicine, the staff and equipment of hospitals will slowly but surely be reduced. Beneath the prime minister’s social mask is simply a more calculating and cynical neoliberal plan than his predecessors, Truss or Johnson.
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