Happy Birthday to the NHS on its 72nd birthday. As everyone in UK who has made it to the Biblical cut-off age of three score years and ten knows only too well by now, 72 is a dangerous age in the Covid-19 era. In this strange new world, people attain instant vulnerability on the day they turn 70. In that respect people are actually rather luckier than the NHS, which becomes instantly vulnerable every time a Conservative government comes to power. Right now, after a decade of Tory misrule, the NHS is more vulnerable than it has ever been, as the present pandemic has made all too obvious.
So Boris, in his kindly way, has given the NHS an unforgettable birthday present, gift-wrapped, virtually if not literally, in the blue light that will bathe key buildings around the country in its honour this evening, and presented to the NHS to echoes of the applause that rang out around the country on Thursday evenings not so long ago. Boris’s present is to honour the NHS’s birthday by declaring it ‘Independence Day’ and encouraging us all to get out to celebrate it in the pubs which were opened in its honour today for the first time in three months. Boris has suggested that we might want to ‘act responsibly’ in doing so, and has set the example when it comes to acting responsibly by boasting about going around shaking the hands of Covid-19 patients in hospitals, and regarding it as entirely reasonable for his chief advisor to go for thirty mile drives to test his eyesight.
So the NHS will be partying tonight to celebrate its birthday, with extra staff invited to come in to join the party. The Independent reports that ‘all NHS trusts have been warned to expect levels of attendance usually seen during new year celebrations, and have been asked to prepare their A&E departments and free up bed capacity in their hospitals to manage the increase.’ A&E staff must be really bored by now with trying to save the lives of Covid-19 patients, so they are bound to welcome an influx of drunk and injured people, many with alcohol poisoning, instead. Some of the drunks will be violent and abusive instead of singing Happy Birthday, as they always are, but that will give the police who always have to hang around A&E departments a good reason not to get themselves injured trying to break up the celebratory riots out in the streets. Boris could, of course, have scheduled the opening of the pubs for a more boring mid-week evening, but that would have limited the opportunities for his compulsively grandiloquent rhetoric and for the close association of post-Brexit England’s ‘Independence Day’ with the USA’s Independence Day, and he would thereby have lost an opportunity to ally himself with his insane counterpart in the USA.
Dealing with drunks who might try to tear off their face masks will obviously heighten the vulnerability of NHS staff, so many of whom have died unnecessarily from Covid-19 already, but the vulnerability of the NHS goes far deeper than the immediate safety of its current staff. Tory Party ideology fetishises the private sector and abjures large national organisations: privatisation offers more opportunity for private profit, profiteering, graft and corruption. Adherents of the ideology maintain, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that it leads to greater efficiency and promotes productivity. One only has to look at our railways and the UK probation service to see the absurdity of that idea. The NHS was progressively, and I suspect deliberately, starved of the funds it needed to maintain the quality of its service for a steadily ageing population through the years of austerity, as seen, to take just one example, from the woeful shortage of PPE equipment and ventilators when a long-predicted virus struck. The drying up of adequate funding enabled bits of the NHS to be carved off and handed to the private sector, as will have been intended.
The government’s ideological mind-set blinded it to the need to look to local authorities and GPs in establishing an efficient track and trace system rather than relying on privatised central laboratories, with the result that England’s failure, even now on ‘Independence Day’, to have an efficient system in place has made us the subject variously of international pity and scorn. But, in spite of all this, this government has shown itself to be incapable of learning from its manifest mistakes. They are still careering towards a no-deal Brexit whose symbolic success depends to their blinkered minds on a trade-deal with the USA. This government knows, and doesn’t care, that what the USA wants most out of a trade deal with the UK is for us to be carving nicely chlorinated roast chicken on our Sunday dinner tables, and for our government to reciprocate by carving our NHS up for them and handing the potentially profitable parts to Donald Trump on a plate. Happy Birthday, NHS, I hope it won’t be your last.