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New government must not let NHS be ‘consumed’ by Brexit

Health organisations have this week called on the new Tory-DUP government to make healthcare a much greater priority than its predecessors did.

Following Thursday’s general election result, which saw Theresa May lose her overall majority and forced her to form an alliance with Northern Irish party the DUP, two leading NHS staff groups have urged the new government to work quickly to address a number of key issues facing the sector.

These include scrapping the 1% cap on public sector pay which has seen nurses’ wages fall in real terms by 14% since 2010, as well as maintaining a soft Irish border after Brexit.

“On a day where figures show that more patients are waiting longer for treatment, it is clear that the next government must make the NHS a priority and that politicians of all parties will have to work together to achieve this,” said Dr Mark Porter, chair of the BMA.

“While the NHS remains one of the best healthcare systems in the world, years of underinvestment in the face of rising patient demand and need has left it at breaking point.” 

Dr Porter also reiterated the BMA’s call to guarantee EU workers the right to work in the UK after Brexit, and also emphasised that a soft border between Ireland and Northern Ireland was essential to protect patient care in this area.

“As we saw during the election campaign, people care deeply about the future of health and social care in this country,” he added. “Yet Conservative funding plans for the NHS fall far short of what is needed.

“There are difficult decisions ahead and doctors need to play a central role in shaping the future of the health service. Above all, the NHS needs an end to the short-termism that has plagued the delivery of health care for too long and a government that will agree a long-term, credible plan to deliver the fully funded and supported NHS that staff want and patients deserve.”

And Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), stated that Theresa May should not be “consumed” by Brexit negotiations and should not forget to face up to the challenges facing the NHS.

“Health and care services must be a greater priority for this government than they were for the last,” Davies warned. “They must be funded to a higher level and we must see action on election promises, especially around mental health and the right to remain for health and care workers from across the EU.

Davies also emphasised that solving the nursing shortage was another crucial issue for the government to look into.

“Hospitals, clinics and communities across the country are short of the nursing staff they need to provide safe care,” she stated. “They are being driven out of the NHS by levels of pay that are as damaging to patient care standards as they are to a nurse’s family life. The government’s pay cap does nothing to help fill the 40,000 vacant nurse jobs in England alone.”

The RCN boss concluded by saying her organisation would be launching a summer-long protest to call on the government to drop its 1% cap on public sector wage rises. “It is simple: a pay rise that is deliberately held below inflation is in fact a pay cut,” Davies argued.  “The cap, after years of pay freezes, means that nursing staff are 14 per cent and at least £3,000 a year worse off than they were in 2010. This summer, the government has one last chance to scrap the cap.”

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