By Nadia Newman
On March 27th Boris Johnson was reported to have been diagnosed with Coronavirus. On April 7th he was admitted into the intensive care unit. After he was released from the ICU, he tweeted a statement and a video about the NHS. The tweet included: “It is hard to find the words to express my debt to the NHS for saving my life” and in the video, “I want to pay my own thanks to the utterly brilliant doctors, leaders in their fields, men and women but several of them for some reason called Nick, who took some crucial decisions a few days ago for which I will be grateful for the rest of my life.” Of course, it’s positive that the Coronavirus has taken one less life, as Boris Johnson is now getting better. However, that was not my first reaction whilst reading his tweet and how he suddenly he owes his life to the NHS. The hypocrisy of his statement angered me. How when the Tory government has constantly underfunded the NHS, when Boris Johnson and so many other Tory MPs have voted against giving nurses a pay rise of 1% in 2017, now these are the people the leader of the Conservative party now owes his life to. It shouldn’t take a global pandemic for him to realize this.
Our nurses and doctors are essential, especially now during a pandemic when we are relying so heavily on the NHS. One of the reasons why lockdown and social distancing are so important to the Coronavirus response is so fewer people catch the virus and, consequently, this reduces the overall strain on the NHS. It’s incredibly important to have a well-functioning healthcare system that can deal with the pressure of the pandemic, which has not yet even reached its peak. To be cynical, it’s easy to be worried for the capability of the NHS to deal with the added stress when the Tories have been underfunding it for years. The privilege Boris Johnson displays when he says he ‘owes the NHS his life’, after previously voting against giving nurses a pay rise in 2017, is evident, especially as these are now labelled ‘key workers’ and are some of the people who are holding the country up.
There is a war-like narrative the media uses to describe key workers as working on the ‘frontlines’, risking lives in case they contract the virus. I think this really demonstrates the way working class people are constantly undervalued in society until an emergency like a pandemic/war. The people at the top – like Boris Johnson – don’t care. This was also demonstrated with the Queen’s speech: they will hail you as important when you are needed, creating a ‘together’ narrative, like propaganda. ‘We can beat this virus’. Yes, of course we do need the country to keep moving and that people from care-workers to those working in supermarkets are especially important. But what can be criticized is the governments outlook before the effects of Coronavirus, which really illustrates their true views.
In the 2017 election, Jeremy Corbyn proposed lots of investment to public services like to the NHS; however, he was criticized by the Tories for supposedly having a ‘magic money tree’ to be able to fund his ideas. But now we are amid a pandemic and the Conservatives are putting in the budget £30 billion to help the UK. The sad fact is that, if the NHS was previously better funded and invested into, we would be much better equipped to deal with Coronavirus today. When the daily lives lost is rising every day, there needs to be factors considered: could have we prevented a lot of these deaths if the NHS was more equipped to deal with the situation? And whether for lots of people there needs to be a change in priority? The health of an economy is not parallel to the importance people’s lives.
The levels of irony to Boris Johnson owing his life to the NHS are frustrating. That supposedly before this, it was less important that people got significantly less quality of care in the NHS. For example, long waiting lists, less hospital beds, shortages of nurses and the strain on healthcare workers due to antisocial working hours. The idea that the Tory government cares about the NHS ignores the past damage they have done. They continue to fuel the illusion of progress towards the NHS. Despite a shortage of nurses during the recent election Johnson’s pledge of 50,000 more nurses, only 31,000 would actually be new nurses and the others would be nurses who would have left the NHS. However, once Boris Johnson’s health is threatened, he states he suddenly now owes his life to them, ignoring the fact that he had previously been working hard to go against prioritizing the national health service. Don’t be fooled, the Tories will only care when it applies to themselves. It was reported that Boris Johnson said he had personally “seen the pressure the NHS is under”, that only now he realizes the pressures of the NHS. How does someone who has worked as a representative and is the prime minister of this country go for so long ignoring the obvious pressure on the NHS and not believe that it needed more investment?
In addition to this Boris Johnson is quick to exploit the value of the NHS to suit his own agenda. For example, during Brexit, photographed standing in front of the infamous Brexit bus: “We send the EU £350 million a week, lets fund our NHS instead”. He knows the importance and value so many people hold for the NHS. Online I’ve seen people who would not vote Tory praise Boris Johnson for his efforts as Prime Minister dealing with Coronavirus. But this is his job, he is not doing the British people a favour by handling the situation. Decisions he has made can still be criticized, as if he had enforced the lockdown sooner, possibly fewer lives would be lost. He still needs to be held to account.
I hope this is not forgotten after returning to the new ‘normal’ when Coronavirus has subsided. That his current gratitude is not a replacement of actual change he can implement in parliament, after years of devaluing the healthcare system. So, when Boris Johnson tweeted to say that he owes his life to the NHS, he’s wrong. He owes the NHS a lot more.
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