The Tories are a danger to the welfare of our nation

The Tories are a danger to the NHS, and the welfare of our nation
6 min read
29 Jun, 2021
Opinion: Dido Harding's racist bid to run a foreigner-free NHS exemplifies the worst of Tory policy that has also resulted in and debilitating cuts to training and health services, writes Malia Bouattia.
Diana Mary "Dido" Harding, Baroness Harding of Winscombe, was the head of the NHS Track and Trace programme and is applying for the position of Chief Executive of NHS England. [Getty]

In Tory Britain, it seems that the best way to secure a senior job is to lay out more xenophobic plans than the competition. 

Dido Harding, a Conservative Peer, is doing just that in her waning bid to become the next head of the National Health Service (NHS).

According to The Times, her leading idea for securing the chief executive role, which comes with a salary of around £200,000, is to make the NHS less reliant on "foreign" workers. In other words, reinforce anti-migrant practices not just at the borders, but also within our doctors' surgeries and hospitals.

"We are still battling the horrific Covid-19 pandemic, during which migrant workers have been so crucial that their visas were extended swiftly and for free, and Tories are already scheming to further exclude key workers who happen to be migrants"

It feels surreal that this policy would be up for consideration, let alone be a selling point for the Baroness's candidacy.

We are still battling the horrific Covid-19 pandemic, during which migrant workers have been so crucial that their visas were extended swiftly and for free, but the Tories are already scheming to further exclude key workers who happen to be migrants.

The NHS needs migrants

Almost 14 percent of all NHS staff are migrants, people who have come over to work in a health system that desperately needs workers and remains structurally reliant on help from abroad. Harding's genius plan is to make up for the gap (or gaping hole) that she would create in the NHS's staffing plan, by training "British" people instead.

Perhaps the Baroness does not realise the state of healthcare education in the UK.

Colleges and universities were already facing a crisis before the pandemic due to government divestment and creeping privatisation. The pandemic has only exacerbated this and led to course closures, mass lay-offs, and an uncertain future for a number of institutions.

To add to the problem, the Tories have also scrapped NHS bursaries, a move that has reduced the number of nursing applications, for example, because it would leave so many students in considerable debt by the end of their studies.

Voices

Harding's qualifications

Then again, thinking that Harding has an actual plan, beyond whipping up xenophobia to create an easy route to power, may be overestimating her considerably. 

Indeed, her recent career has been paved with catastrophic decisions, none of which she has taken responsibility for. In her current position as chair of NHS Improvement, a role she has held since 2017, she has overseen the disastrous £22bn ($30bn) Covid-19 Test and Trace programme which the Commons Public Accounts Committee report found had "no clear evidence" of any impact. 

"It's not difficult to imagine how the money and energy that went to the failed Test and Trace scheme could have been used differently to save lives"

It's not difficult to imagine how the money and energy that went to the failed Test and Trace scheme could have been used differently to save lives. Her excuse?

"Expectations were set too high".

This is the person who wants to manage one of the most important institutions of our welfare state and to caretake a budget of over £150bn ($208bn). 

The Tories' hostile environment

Harding is not the only one to blame. If she considers heightening xenophobic promises to be a positive step towards power and influence, it is because it has been one of the defining features of Johnson's reign so far.

Not only are Tories renowned for avoiding accountability, they also often shift blame and attention on migrants while Conservative policies damage our lives, freedom, and economy.

The PM and his cabinet have set the political agenda and, since the Brexit referendum and the latest general election, have been focusing their energies on strengthening the hostile environment and making the lives of migrants as unbearable as possible.

The Conservative-backed Border Control Bill aims to facilitate the discriminatory practices of the Home Office, further institutionalising and intensifying xenophobia and the war on migrants.

Selling the NHS

The truth is that the idea of any Tory taking over the running of the NHS should instil fear in all of us. They have presided over years of privatisation and debilitating cuts to health services in order to paint the picture that the NHS is no longer fit for purpose. This narrative is then perversely used to justify the same concerted efforts to privatise and sell off what is left of it.

Harding, or any other member of her party heading up the NHS, is likely to continue this process and deliver a further blow to this essential service that we've been told to "save" throughout the pandemic. Disallowing 14 percent of the NHS's necessary staff is as good a way as any to manufacture structural crises to justify new reforms.

"It is important that we focus on what is important: not the sexual escapades of those who rule us, but the danger they represent to our welfare, our future, and our NHS"

And if the future did not already seem bleak enough, the recent news of the transfer of NHS GP patient data to a centralised database that private firms can access for medical research is further cause for concern. Despite being dubbed "the biggest data grab in NHS history", and facing so much opposition that the project has been delayed, former Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the decision.

The Tories' track record and present behaviour should leave no room for doubt: profit is much more important to them than people's health, privacy, or lives.

As the latest scandal involving Hancock and his aide slips from the news cycle, it's important that we focus on what is important: not the sexual escapades of those who rule us, but the danger they represent to our welfare, our future, and our NHS.

Who runs our healthcare system, the resources it receives, who it serves and how, and the treatment reserved for those working within it, all require our urgent attention - before it is too late. 

 

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk

Opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer, or The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.