ALAN Lindley (Dec 16th) is quite right to ask whether the NHS is being run down, and Brian Beckwith (Dec 17th) provides a very reasonable response.

The reduction is long-term and deliberate. In 2011 the Cameron government reduced the targets for nurse recruitment, against professional advice that there was going to be a shortage by 2016, on the false basis that, according to Anne Milton, a Health Minister, there would otherwise be a surplus of nurses who would be without a job.

The nurses not recruited in 2011 onwards would have qualified in 2015 onwards and would have provided an experienced workforce today. The abolition of the nurse training bursary (2017) underlined the deliberate and successful intention to discourage recruitment

The Conservative manifesto in 2019 implicitly accepted that major errors had been made with the training, recruitment and retention of doctors and nurses, with the promise - worthless, as it turns out - to recruit significantly more (there are fewer).

The number of hospital beds, both general and intensive care, has been steadily reduced, in spite of provision already being lower than in other comparable industrial and post-industrial European countries.

Privatisation, heavily pushed in the 2012 Act and now being pushed further by the current Health & Care Bill, has also taken its toll. While outsourced health care is still technically NHS, the vaunted efficiency often tends to be in making profits rather than providing care. The most egregiously scandalous case recently has been the £37bn budgeted for the outsourced “NHS” Test & Trace, with massive profits for Serco and its sub-contractors, but which, according to the National Audit Office (Dec 2020) took a fifth of the NHS budget and failed repeatedly to hit its targets.

In October this year the Commons Public Accounts Committee said that the Test & Trace system “has not achieved its main objective.” Moreover, the claim that it was “world-beating” was “overstated or not achieved”.

The scandals attached to the provision of over-priced personal protective equipment are still emerging.

While the government attempts to cover itself by claiming that NHS funding has increased - it has - the anticipated rise in demand with a larger and ageing population has outstripped the provision. It is not a “bottomless pit” as claimed by some politicians. The NHS is simply and deliberately underfunded, and we could learn lots of lessons about proper provision from many of our near neighbours. The NHS model itself remains an excellent one, and is currently subsidised by the supererogation of its staff.

Barry Tempest

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