Illustrations by Hannah Robinson

As we reach the end of week three of the COVID-19 lockdown, social media pages continue to regress to the trends of 2012/13. Our screens are now filled with a myriad of challenges, baking pictures and #ThrowbackThursday pics and I, for one, am loving it!    

The latest trend, known as “Run for Heroes”, involves running 5 kilometres, donating £5 to NHS charities and then tagging five friends. It has been a massive success and has raised at least a million pounds so far. I have participated in this trend and enjoyed doing so, however it did not sit well with me. This is because the NHS is not a charity; it is a public service.

Following World War II, and in response to the Beveridge report, the British welfare state (including the NHS) was set up to tackle the pressing economic and social issues facing the people of the day. Since then the NHS has grown to become the “crown jewel” of the British welfare state. It is the most fiercely protected public service, which is why people have been so willing to donate, but it seems that we have forgotten that the NHS is not funded by donations.

Our free (at the point of usage) NHS is set up to be funded through taxes, to make it accessible for all and to save lives across the country. Yet the past decade of austerity measures has seen a chronic underfunding of our NHS.  As highlighted in my last article, political choices made by recent governments, have hugely worsened the ability of the NHS to cope with this crisis. Instead of searching for scapegoats, the UK government should be taking responsibility for the fact that the UK is now on track to have the most COVID-19 deaths in Europe. Both political decisions made in the past decade, and policy decisions taken in response to this crisis have put us, and our NHS, in a state of crisis.

Despite this, the mainstream media continues to fail to scrutinise the impact of COVID-19, from the position of an understanding of the impact of recent policy and political choices. Rather than blaming a foreign country or international organisation for our crisis, we should look at the actions of this country’s governments of past and present. Whilst I would avoid direct country comparisons at this point, (for there remain too many discrepancies in reporting methods and a lack of transparency in individual countries’ policies) it is clear that decisions made by the UK government, have worsened our death rate.  

Back to the NHS. Whilst I commend the efforts of everyone raising money for the NHS, we have to acknowledge that this can only be a short-term solution. The NHS is a public service not a charity. It needs to be fully and properly funded through taxes. Volunteers cannot continue to run our NHS and our healthcare workers must be paid fairly and justly.

I hope this crisis will be a turning point in the funding levels and austerity wages we see across our NHS. But with a recession looming on the horizon, the only way this can be done is with a wave of public support and a strong opposition demanding an alternative, if we are to change the tide.