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article imageOp-Ed: Strike action threatens the NHS in UK

By Dawn Denmar     Dec 2, 2015 in Health
The UK is justifiably proud of the NHS, created by the National Health Service Act 1946 and initiated in July 1948. 2015 strikes and financial cuts could signal further demise of this national behemoth.
The NHS is the free health service of the UK and was built on recommendations of the Beveridge Report 1942. It is funded by taxes and the service was implemented by the Labour Government that came to power after World War II as part of its Manifesto promises. From a global perspective, the NHS has been viewed as a success by countries and nations around the world. It would be a great shame if the UK health service were to continue its slow decline into fragmentation and potential privatization due to inaction by government, health staff, local councils, communities and the UK population as a whole.
Recent staff negotiations and government initiatives have highlighted just how vulnerable the NHS has become within the fabric of UK society, with potential strike actions from GPs, junior doctors and potential strife with the Royal College of Nursing over student nurse bursary cuts. A 24-hour strike action by junior doctors which was planned to take place yesterday, Tuesday 1 December 2015, was called off by the British Medical Association at the last moment, however services were still disrupted. Thousands of operations, tests, routine appointments and treatments planned for 1 December had already been cancelled, with an impact that varied across individual hospital trusts and untold cost/waiting list implications needing to be picked up by the NHS.
The NHS spends around 50 percent of its budget on staff costs, so widespread government spending cuts and budget initiatives are likely to cause increased militancy from health staff at all levels. The knock on effect for a government struggling to balance its budget is likely to lead to increased costs due to continued battles between health staff unions and ministers. Closing hospitals and cutting more services may seem an unlikely scenario at this moment. But unless government forms a workable strategy it could well be the direction followed. Research into the NHS commissioned by the previous government revealed that agency staff bills cost £3.3 billion in 2014, costs had been £1.8 billion three years previously. The NHS can be charged up to £3,500 for just one doctor's shift, while a total of £600million was spent on the hire of management consultants.
Clamping down on costs is a prime objective of the Conservative Government, however spiraling NHS costs have been a regular focus of government for several decades. Private finance initiatives and increasing numbers of staff working within business management/senior management teams may have conspired to move the health service into the same arena it faced when Mrs Thatcher assumed power. It's saddening to watch a health service which started on such noble principles slowly deteriorate and face the same problems that were allegedly solved by NHS reforms initiated under the Conservative Governments of Margaret Thatcher. It's certain the NHS does need to act to cut spiraling costs and enhance medical opportunities, however, following the same route as Mrs Thatcher within the current economic climate and a more militant body of health workers could be one battle the UK Government loses.
Proactive and strategic initiatives by successive governments encouraging medical tourists to take advantage of NHS services could be one way to syphon funds back into the NHS. The Obama Health Care Plan caused furore in the United States, and medical costs, standards and care within the UK may be an attractive option for US health insurance companies searching around for the best medical deals. One of the strengths of the UK culture is the small number of "ambulance chasing" payouts made by the NHS, though clinical negligence claims increased to £680million in 2013. The NHS provides opportunities for the UK to benefit from government marketing of its services, if handled in a sensitive manner. Consultant practitioners within the private hospital sector generally train and continue to work within the NHS, so English speaking patients and other overseas patients arriving at UK hospitals would be assured of care that could not be classed as second rate or substandard. Whether potential "private" patients are "bussed in" from the United States, nationals from diverse countries or nations or even arrive temporarily from war zones, the ability to generate added income from the UK's medical services could be one way to ensure staffing complements are retained and training of medical staff across all departments is maintained and enhanced.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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