Protect the NHS?

It is the second part of this Government strapline that causes me more than a little concern. “Protect the NHS”. To me, it is the one thing that successive Conservative Governments have failed to do. We only need to look back at those years of austerity to know just how much the NHS has been decimated.

My local hospital used to provide beds for over 600 patients and at extreme times could reach 650 and there were the staff to provide for the needs of those patients. But now it provides for fewer that 400 when pressed, but usually it is more likely to be about 360.

For many years under austerity the hospital’s budget was reduced by about 5% a year. And whilst those reductions were taking place the number of people for whom this would be their local hospital was on the increase.

It is an outstanding hospital and is proud of what it had managed to achieve in spite of the yearly reduction in funding and the consequent reductions in staff numbers as well.

It is a great credit to the NHS that it continues to provide healthcare for all our increasing communities but it is regrettable that successive Tory Governments have failed to provide the finances.

It is a matter of great regret that during the coalition years the Lib Dems were associated with these cuts, though they did their best to stand up to that Chancellor. Unfortunately, their objections were frequently overruled, and now we have to live with the consequences.

If the NHS is to be protected it needs the finances all the time not just when the pandemics come, and come again they will.

The health of the nation is a key Government responsibility. It is not something that can be bought on the cheap.


* Sandy Clare is a pseudonym of a Lib Dem member whose identity is known to the LDV team.

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Why raise this political point at this precise moment when our hospitals are struggling during the worst crisis since the second world war? People are dying at a tremendous rate and you think it fine to score political points?

    Regardless of whether you are right or wrong, I find the deliberate timing of your article sickening.

  • @Peter

    I have to disagree.

    Now is exactly the time that must be raised, we have a budget coming up soon.

    The NHS has been underfunded for years and bed numbers have been cut.
    We have one of the worse ratio’s for population to ICU beds, which could explain our increased fatality rates. It certainly had an effect on the amount of elective surgery having to be cancelled which could have drastic consequences for years to come.

    Then of course we have an appalling mental health crisis on our hands which is going to need drastic overhaul and proper funding.

    Now is exactly the time to be raising these issues as we need to be funding the NHS properly and increasing capacity in all area’s.

    We might as we all hope manage to come through the covid-19 pandemic, however, we do not know what new viruses are lurking out there.

    Lessons must be learnt fast and as we are learning the hard way now, to delay, costs lives.

    I welcome this article and hope to see Liberal Democrats leading the way on this issue.

    It is not political point scoring at all, it is what any responsible party should be doing

  • @Peter – Now is the time when the Conservatives are seemingly willingly embracing the NHS (without it where would we and our economy be?), to get them to willingly invest in the creation of a post-CoVid19 NHS.
    Obviously, I get your point and would hope that the message is framed so as to encourage the Conservatives to save some face and appear to have had the idea rather than shame them into doing something which we know will be done grudgingly.

  • David Evershed 29th Jan '21 - 2:07am

    Hospitals should be measured on their output not on the number of beds or number of staff.
    When I had a hernia operation as a child I was in a hospital bed for two weeks. Nowadays it would be more like two days. So the number of beds required to carry out the same function is very much reduced.

  • I have to agree with those who think this attack on austerity ill-timed. ‘Protect the NHS’ has nothing to do with politics.
    We all have to make risk assessments about our own chances of getting seriously ill, and for some that can mean sub-optimal adherence to the rules. But rolling the dice in that way has consequences beyond our own well-being. Aggregated, individual bad luck adds up to big numbers, and the people working in Covid wards are being pushed to their limits, physically and psychologically. The government’s message is purely about having a social conscience, and we should support it wholeheartedly, even if it sticks in our craw that it comes from a Conservative Prime Minister. Raking over the embers of austerity and trying to learn from our mistakes is a task for another time: the public would regard doing it now, with an explicit link to Covid, as political opportunism.
    Some might even argue that having a Conservative PM talking about putting self-interest aside for the good of the wider community is a good thing.

  • Ronald Murray 29th Jan '21 - 8:15am

    Protect the NHS is a ridiculous slogan like saying don’t have fires to protect the fire and rescue service. In both cases, protection is needed due to mainly conservative cutbacks. It should be about saving your life and others.

  • Peter Martin 29th Jan '21 - 10:11am

    Neoliberal and Conservative voices will nearly always say that an attack on economic austerity is ill timed!

    Before the pandemic their argument would have been along the lines that the National Debt and deficits were spiralling out of control, we have to cut our clothes according to our cloth, the credit card is maxed out, there’s no money left in the kitty etc etc.

    This is not what they would be saying if we were involved in a war which was going badly because the armed forces had been cut back too much. They’d be wanting heads to roll for not funding them adequately. Yet, the principle is much the same.

    This is not to say that there are unlimited resources in the economy to be able to provide everything we would like. If the Government tries to do too much and spends on resources which aren’t there we will see a rise in inflation. That has not at all been a problem recently. Let’s leave the austerity aside until it is.

  • The debate on NHS funding has been held on the wrong grounds for years. The biggest problem isn’t beds or hospitals, it’s people.

    The centralized, and therefore bureaucratic, system has many faults (technology being one) but, during this current pandemic, it has allowed additional capacity to be created at speed (via Nightingale hospitals) and enabled a vaccination program to be implemented quickly and efficiently (when the biggest concerns are that some centres are giving surplus doses to family and friends, it’s probably fair to say it’s going fairly well).

    The problem with the NHS (and the health and social system more generally) is that we don’t train enough people to provide the services we want – whether that is health or social care. Instead, “our” NHS – and the wider social care system – is far too reliant on non-UK trained professionals, scandalously many from lesser developed countries.

    If we’re serious about “our” NHS, we need to invest in training enough people across all areas of health and social care to meet our needs. Given the upheaval of the last year, now would be a good time to start.

  • David Garlick 29th Jan '21 - 10:25am

    Attack austerity all you want but remember we were, against my advice, there.
    What we need is a community led green recovery. Anything less would be a disaster for future generations. NHS funding will be ever more difficult as our post Brexit economy slows. Will it get better? The jury is out but I fear not.

  • nigel hunter 29th Jan '21 - 11:36am

    Yes Brexit will hit us.Being Tories they will find the areas they want to ‘get rid of’for cuts. Those will be NHS and Local Govnt. It will be a bit here a bit there.Budgets will be constantly reduced to the bone. People will find there wages being used for ever increasing payouts for bills .An example is at one time dentistry was ‘on the NHS’ for all. Today it is restricted to certain groups. IF this is to be continued people will want funds to pay for these things. Higher wages or Universal Basic Income payment on top of existing wages, benefits could be a start..

  • Steve Trevethan 29th Jan '21 - 1:28pm

    Might some data help?

    Here is a site labelled, “List of countries by hospital beds.”

    What have been/are the actual benefits of “Austerity”?

  • Paul Fisher 29th Jan '21 - 3:53pm

    Interesting read; article and comments. Countries that have most successfully combatted this pandemic are those that have selected and stuck to THE aim – to stop COVID19. The split aim as the author highlights up front is deliberate as it enables the Tories to play two tunes and disguise the underfunding of UK healthcare. It is the same game as claiming that the vaccine is the answer; it is not. The vaccine reduces the effects on the host it does not stop the a person being a host and providing a transmission opportunity, the is why isolation is also need. We need informed decision makers, facts, logic and above all the understanding that the UK government has been taken over by fascism. That is what the LibDems need to face up to; not be succoured into what these masters of deception want a divided opposition to squabble about. They are leaping with joy that the LibDems are pre occuppied with “carers”. Select and Maintain the aim!

  • Helen Dudden 30th Jan '21 - 10:38am

    To protect the NHS, how many times has this been the words heard?
    We all know the failings with regards to the Nightingale temporary hospitals.
    As treatment, became less and less for cancer and other serious illnesses. It’s going to take a lot of effort to catch up. More pressure, for doctors and nurses and other staff who have given their all.
    I don’t know where this will end, but to keep repeating the same failings, is at best foolish, at worst madness.

  • True Helen, but people still vote Tory. 🙂

  • The NHS was in a difficult place when the pandemic struck; that must be acknowledged when trying to improve, but we must not forget ill-health prevention and social care, involving various other local public services.

  • Sandy Clare 30th Jan '21 - 4:47pm

    Thank you to all of you who have responded to my initial post. Your comments and observations are many and quite varied. At this point I do not intend responding to each and every one. I think some of you have done that for me.

    However, given that the strapline was to “protect the NHS” the line I was taking in the first instance was that it is one of the primary and key functions of Government. To achieve that end there needs to be sufficient finances. Over the course of many years there has been a significant financial reduction by Governments in the budget for the NHS. That has meant that hospitals have had to make extremely difficult decisions about how to spend the money they have been allocated. More often than not they have exceeded their annual budget.

    Whilst it is true that hospitalisation nowadays does not take as long as it used to, there needs to be an understanding that the population each hospital serves over the past few years has increased quite significantly. As too has the age profile. And with that increase in the age profile the time an elderly patient could be expected to be hospitalised has increased. Twenty years ago to find an 80 year old patient was uncommon let alone 100 year olds. Nowadays it is far from rare. But the needs of the elderly are different and often cannot be dealt with in a matter of days.

    So, the position I was taking in the post is that it is a primary function of Government to care for the health of the nation and to fund it sufficiently. The current pandemic has just raised the whole issue to a higher level.

    But to pass the buck now in this Covid 19 pandemic to the general population is devious. Stay at home and by doing so you, the general public, will protect the NHS is essentially the Government seeking to absolve itself from the consequences of its own inaction and lack of funding.

    It will be interesting to see how history records this event.


    A survey of 7,000 doctors across the UK in December undertaken by the British Medical Association found that as a result of the intense pressures of working during Covid, 28% are more likely to retire early, 21% are more likely to leave the NHS for another career and 47% are more likely to work fewer hours.

    The NHS is going to be facing difficulties on many fronts in the years to come and it is going to need proper funding.
    It is likely going to take years to catch up on the back log of operations that have been postponed over the last year not to mention we still do not know how long term public health is going to be affected by people suffering from long-covid. There are a lot of people out there who have suffered awful lung and organ damage from this disease.

    These are not things that can be shelved for a later time, they need urgently addressing now.

    The NHS is going to face a staffing crisis with many considering a change of career altogether due to the burn out they have felt from dealing with covid.

    Maybe we nee to also be urgently discussing how to address this now and encouraging more people into medicine. Fully paid tuition fees for ALL nurses and DR’s maybe in return for a 5-10 year committed work contract upon qualified?

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • expats
    Russell 1st Dec '22 - 5:15pm.....The reason inflation is so high is because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine...... Don't forget the 'B' word...* *Brexit ...
  • Helen Dudden
    Restricting heating wont help. Black mould has been a culture in the many years of social housing. The lack of repairs, housing that was not that great to st...
  • Geoff Reid
    As a Methodist my instincts are usually to avoid interfering in private grief. However while the influence of bishops in the Lords may be marginal, this is grea...
  • Mick Taylor
    I rather fear that this sort of casual racism is far more common that any of us like to admit. I remember canvassing in a by-election that the BNP won. I, perh...
  • Mary ReidMary Reid
    When my mother was in her 90s and suffering from Alzheimer's I took in a photo of Obama and explained that he was the new US President. "Oh, he's a negro!" she ...