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'Any recession hits health services hard and fast'

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As the global economy spirals out of control, the BBC might supplement its annual charity drive with Bankers in Need. Lenny Henry might forgo his usual foray to the ravaged hinterland of Namibia and head for the stockbroker belt to report on the harrowing tale of some rich bloke being forced to sell a yacht. Rumour has it that one person who recently had £10bn now only has £5bn. The poor mite.

Public-sector workers are left asking two questions. Why didn’t any government ever bail out stricken hospitals or PCTs rather than telling them that they have to assume full financial responsibility for themselves? And when will this economic crisis hit the services we work in?

When the dust settles and all these pointless and badly dressed financial people stop running around terrified that they may have to get a proper job, some politician is going to start making speeches with the words ‘frugal’, ‘tighten our belt’ and ‘limit public spending’ in them.

It is a bit like being in a bad disaster movie, isn’t it? But instead of being overwhelmed by a giant meteor or tidal wave, we are being bombarded by dark days. So far this month we have had two black Fridays, a black Tuesday, a rather beige Thursday (when nothing much happened) and a distraught Monday.

Every paper and newsreader is screaming that the world is about to end because someone has lost all their money. And we know that whatever crisis we experience – because it only becomes a crisis when large numbers of ordinary people have the things they care about threatened – will be born of greed and the desire to create wealth where there was no value.

Petty moralising, though, isn’t going to help us when the lack of money begins to hit the institutions that genuinely maintain our social structure, like the NHS.

We know from experience that anything that resembles a recession tends to hit health services hard and fast. When New Labour came to power one of its promises was that the NHS would be secure in its funding. Most nurses will say that it hasn’t felt secure over the past 10 years. Now would be the time to not just make that promise good but also to demonstrate a sense that, despite our preoccupation with the money markets, we retain a capacity to invest in the things that matter most – the health and well-being of the population.

In the absence of any assurances I wonder if it is realistic to hope for a coming together of the professions who maintain the health service, with nurses at its heart, to mount a defence in the face of impending spending cuts?

Want to read more of Mark Radcliffe’s opinions? Just click on the more by this author link at the top of this page

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