A few months into my first job in the NHS, some 38 years ago, I watched Prime Minister Jim Callaghan being interviewed, on his return to the UK after an international mid-winter summit in the Caribbean, about the strikes in public services that have come to be known as the winter of discontent. I and pretty well everyone working in the NHS, and most of the population, knew there was a crisis. Callaghan’s dismissive comment were famously reported as “Crisis, what crisis?” They didn’t go down well, he didn’t act, and he went on to lose the impending election.
Today, can it really be that our current prime minister is the only one who doesn’t realise there is an NHS crisis?
The comment by the British Red Cross chief executive that there is a “humanitarian crisis” upped the ante, but at prime minister’s questions Theresa May said he was crying wolf. However, the fact is that, humanitarian or not, crisis means crisis, and if she carries on with her current denial – and inaction – the NHS will soon cease to be able to cope.
There have been three further NHS crises since 1979: in 1987-8, as the NHS ran out of money and failed to cope with the winter pressures it faced; in the early 90s, when the sickest patients were left waiting on trolleys in corridors for days; and in 2006, when the NHS overspent across the board because it couldn’t do the limitless amount the Blair government expected of it. Each crisis began to be sorted only when the government of the day finally accepted there was problem, and that ministers had to play a leading part in solving it. And so will this one.
Full story in The Guardian 15 January 2017