The Devastating and Unscientific Health Strategy of the Conservatives Laid Bare

Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

As a clinician who was fortunate enough to undertake further studies that included medical anthropology and anthrozoology, I have been chilled to the bone by the bizarre stance on health that the Tories have clung onto for years, despite the sheer ignorance of medical science it reveals.

It is a policy that ignores many critical things that must be understood to properly manage a health service and keep populations safe, including the reality of new and emerging infectious diseases, such as the highly virulent zoonotic Coronavirus COVID-19.

The chilling Tory line, well-rehearsed since 2015 (when the Conservative Party won their first majority since 1992), has been regurgitated in almost identical ways by David Cameron, Jeremy Hunt, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Theresa May and Boris Johnson. The core message is the UK can only afford to ‘invest’ in the NHS when the economy is booming.

I have been so troubled by this line that I tweeted about it each time I heard Tories repeat it on news and debate programmes. I have never witnessed presenters of those programmes challenging the dangerously flawed position. I include some of these tweets below — and between the tweets I will link to the platform in which the position was parroted.

There are many reasons why a policy of linking expenditure on the NHS with the GDP of the UK is dangerous, scientifically illiterate and medically negligent. The first should be understood by any politician and doesn’t require a clinical education. Economic cycles are a reality and diseases don’t become dormant when GDP or share prices fall. It should not have required the COVID-19 pandemic for this undeniable fact to be accepted.

There are fundamental health needs of any society and when population health breaks down so do industries, as we are seeing. The economy is dependent on a healthy population and NHS funding should not be dependent on economic booms. In a real sense, people come before profit. Before you can have customers, employers and suppliers, there needs to be a healthy population.

My next point, given the history of our species, should not require a new pandemic for politicians to be able to grasp. Infectious diseases are hardly novel among the species on this planet. A national health service isn’t there just to treat individuals who get sick or injured, but to maintain the health of society. New and emerging disease outbreaks are an ever-present threat and that risk is exacerbated by the climate crisis. Tory health policy has ignored the reality of disease and the reality of our world.

There is a great deal of anxiety in the UK due to our government taking a radically different approach to the pandemic from their counterparts in other countries. One extremely reasonable concern is we don’t have accurate figures on how many cases we have in the UK, as people who don’t feel well are being told to self-isolate and, unless critically ill in hospital, are not being tested. This, like other aspects of the UK government’s strategy, flies in the face of World Health Organization advice.

With a shortage of 43,000 nurses and 10,000 doctors, the government would be acutely aware that testing everyone who has symptoms, let alone monitoring those people in hospital and respirating them, is tragically impossible. But the depletion of NHS clinicians is down to the government. Therefore, it looks as though the failure of the Conservative government to maintain the NHS properly is now causing it to mismanage a pandemic. One terrible mistake has forced them to another fatal error.

In the absence of a COVID-19 vaccine, and new strains emerging a real possibility, it seems highly likely that we will be still struggling with this pandemic in the winter, when other infectious diseases take their toll on our citizens and the NHS. Therefore, by this time next year the NHS is likely to be even further run down and the hard Brexit favoured by Boris Johnson’s regime will have depleted our teams of clinicians, cleaners and other vital staff even further.

During the 2008 financial crisis, this 1993 quote by investor Warren Buffett was often repeated: “It’s only when the tide goes out, that you learn who’s been swimming naked”. This is a reference to organisations being exposed, in a downturn, as not being as viable as they had seemed to be during economic booms. In relation to the NHS, clinicians have been telling the Tories for 10 years that they are harming it and lives are being jeopardised by policies that ignore the complexity of health and disease. When the COVID-19 pandemic started to kill people in Britain, the nakedness of the negligence of the Conservative’s health strategy became more apparent than ever. It is not a pleasant view.

Below is a selection of tweets about this dangerous strategy. Readers will no doubt be aware of more incidences of prominent Tories parroting this ill-conceived position. Please share such incidences with me on Twitter.

The above tweet was in response to David Cameron speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons in November 2015. Responding to a question from Jeremy Corbyn about NHS deficits and waiting lists, Cameron had said: “Because we have had a strong economy, because we have some of the strongest growth anywhere in the world, because we have got unemployment coming down and because we have got inflation on the floor, we are able to fund an NHS.”

Hard Brexit Tory and hedge fund owner Jacob Rees-Mogg made the same point as David Cameron subsequently on the BBC’s political debate programme Question Time, but more starkly:

Theresa May became prime minister in 2016 and she continued the line of David Cameron, that NHS funding is contingent on a strong economy. As did health minister Jeremy Hunt.

May was still peddling the line in January 2018, in Prime Minister’s Questions, where she said: “ This Government are putting more money into the National Health Service. We see more doctors and nurses in our NHS, more operations taking place in our NHS, and more people being treated in accident and emergency in our NHS, but we can only do that if we have a strong economy.”

In June 2018, while making claims about a ‘Brexit dividend’, Boris Johnson continued along the same flawed line, stating: “The important point is that you can only afford to fund the NHS well if you have a strong vibrant and dynamic economy.”

Johnson has continued down that perilous path (for the citizens of the UK) since taking office. The following two tweets were in response to BBC Question Time debates:

Will is an anthropologist, journalist and former clinician. He is the author or Veneer of Civilisation, Psychopathic Cultures and Beyond the End of the World

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