Why I don’t agree with clapping for the NHS

Our weekly clapping is drowning out the reality of this government’s handling of the pandemic and its neglect of the NHS

As a socialist, I fully support universal healthcare. That’s not to suggest those principles need to accompany each other but I say it to provide context. Although my political leaning has likely increased my lamenting of the underfunding and under-resourcing, and the often little discussed mismanagement, that the NHS has aggressively been subject to under successive Tory and Tory-led governments.

I stand in solidarity with the NHS and those who staff it. I angrily deplore the aforementioned having caused such an emotional, mental and sadly physical cost to those staff during the peak of the pandemic and beyond. The government’s call to protect the NHS is ironic given successive Tory governments have consistently given the NHS a kicking. Moreover, they have lambasted its staff alongside other public sector workers they have vilified.

Photo by Hello I'm Nik 🎞 on Unsplash

It’s because of this that I don’t agree with the weekly clapping for the NHS. It is an empty gesture, driven by the jingoistic rhetoric employed by a Prime Minister who portrays Covid-19 as a wartime enemy, as he whips up the government’s braying supporters into a frenzy. His strategy has been to evoke public sentiment akin to the Blitz spirit as he seeks to channel his inner Winston Churchill.

Boris Johnson does share some of his wartime hero’s qualities; most notably those that relate to race and compounded by a misplaced hubris with regard to Britain. Only, we’re not at war and Johnson doesn’t have a physical enemy to place before the British public. Consequently, his bombast around Covid-19 is a distraction at best from the abysmal handling of the pandemic by an incompetent and unethical government.

When we clap for the NHS, our cheers and applause, with a cacophony of banging pots and pans, drown out the sombre and chilling reality of this government’s handling of the pandemic. It provides a smokescreen to conceal their bloodied hands as they show callous nonchalance towards protecting lives. From the outset, they instead sought to throw a protective ring around the economy in their commitment to the toxicity of capitalism.

Standing alongside our neighbours on our doorsteps, or from our windows, we cheer on our troops in the NHS. But what of the lack of PPE and the government’s failures in providing it? What of the absolute palaver in acquiring necessary ventilators? Or years of mismanagement and underfunding of the NHS and undervaluing of its staff?

The NHS surcharge for migrant health workers was only averted by the Prime Minister’s recent U-turn after bowing to pressure. That was only weeks after he gave what must have been a disingenuous thank you to migrant nurses. Are these the same staff we clap for while the government is prepared to charge them in exchange for their invaluable efforts? And of course, we can’t forget Exercise Cygnus in 2016 where the extent of the NHS’ preparedness for a pandemic response was exposed, yet its findings were never published. Methinks that might have been a good starting point for protecting the NHS.

Our clapping merely blocks this out. It presents a selective memory to years of the government’s cavalier approach to the NHS. And the government is aware of this. To join in with the applause may be intended in support but it makes us complicit in changing the narrative that the government seeks to create. One where we’re supposedly all in this together while they’ve spent years undoing the very efforts they want us to get behind.

We’ve watched Captain Tom Moore raise money for the NHS during the pandemic and praised him as a hero. Those sentiments have been echoed and amplified by the government. Indeed, he deserves to be lauded for his charitable efforts. But let’s take a step back. We’re cheering on a 100 year old war veteran, doing laps of his garden, to raise money for a publicly funded health service.

We’re so happy to cheer him on as we again become complicit to the distraction that the government is the architect of. It beggars belief that the public, the media and the government have watched a war veteran, a man in the twilight of his life, walk laps of his garden to raise money for the NHS without it even being questioned. Behind the applause, the government is allowing the NHS to become a charity by stealth and we’re so giddy with our clapping that we aren’t even questioning it. However, some of the public need to own this repositioning of the NHS as it’s what they voted for.

When you consider the 2019 general election result, and those in the past decade, with the number of people clapping every Thursday, there is an unmistakable fact. Some of those adding their applause to the support of the NHS must have voted Tory.

This makes no sense. If you voted for the Tories in 2019, you surely knew their approach on the NHS. Even with recent history, you had nine years of evidence to inform yourself. Their clapping for the NHS is therefore empty. If they really wanted to protect the NHS, they shouldn’t have voted Tory.

In 2017, 313 Tory MPs voted against lifting the 1% pay cap for public sector workers, including nurses. They were so excited about it, that they cheered as it was voted down. So much for their solidarity with the NHS.

Another issue that presents some discomfort in the weekly clapping is the lack of appreciation it gives to other key workers beyond those in the NHS.

NHS workers are undoubtedly on the front line along with care workers and rightly deserve recognition for their efforts. I stand in solidarity with them. Yet we have ignored the many other key workers who have been on the front line throughout the pandemic, sometimes with risk on par to some NHS staff.

Transit workers who have kept our public transport running. Contrary to the message peddled by right wing media, teachers, who have kept schools open for vulnerable children and those whose parents are key workers, have remained in schools throughout the lockdown. And grocery store workers have kept shelves stocked amidst initial panic buying. Yes, some have said the weekly clapping is for all key workers but the headline is clap for our NHS staff. We’ve allowed other key workers to be forgotten.

Even amongst the NHS, how much are ancillary staff at hospitals considered in our applause? We probably think more of our GPs than the hospital cleaner, the latter who has arguably been more on the front line alongside medical professionals in hospitals.

The NHS is sacrosanct. No matter how many moves there are to privatise it by stealth, its name will likely remain even if it comes to exist in name only. The government knows this which is why ‘protect the NHS’ is such a powerful slogan. Furthermore, it means the disregard for other front line essential workers is almost deliberate. They just don’t evoke the same emotion as the NHS does.

If we want to show our support for the NHS, we need to ensure they are fairly paid and respected by our government. We need to value their contribution to our healthcare service and British society. We need to hold the government to account when the above can’t be seen and protect the NHS ourselves in the pressure we apply on our politicians. Clapping for a few minutes each week might make us feel better about ourselves but it’s not achieving anything.

I remain in solidarity with and support the NHS and all key workers. Not just now, but always. I just can’t clap alongside such hollow appreciation or aid the government’s distraction from the questions we should all be asking.

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