News ID: 90259
Publish Date : 16 May 2021 - 21:40
LONDON (AFP) – In April last year, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson thanked the doctors and nurses who saved his life after he spent days in hospital intensive care with Covid-19.
In an emotional address on television, he promised all the necessary funds for the state-run National Health Service (NHS), which is Europe’s biggest employer.
But 12 months on, frontline health workers said that promise rings hollow and they feel "betrayed”, as experts warn the system is imploding for lack of investment.
Even before the global health crisis hit, the NHS -- a national institution funded by taxation and providing free healthcare -- was already under severe strain.
"The NHS had just finished the most difficult winter. We were behind on delays of treatment, on all metrics,” said Stuart Tuckwood, nursing officer for the public sector union Unison.
Hospitals then had to cope with two devastating waves of Covid-19 that stretched staff to the limit and put capacity at breaking point.
Since Britain’s outbreak began, more than 127,000 people have died after testing positive for the disease -- one of the worst death tolls in the world.
Staff are physically and mentally exhausted, said Tuckwood.
"Then the government has indicated that all it’s going to offer is a one-percent raise for NHS workers. It feels like a massive betrayal,” he told AFP.
The proposed pay increase has caused anger far and wide, prompting calls from the main opposition Labour party -- which set up the NHS in 1948 -- for a much bigger award.
A British Medical Association survey of 2,100 staff indicated that more than one in five plan to leave the NHS and change careers because of Covid-related stress and fatigue.
Nurses are widely viewed as underpaid, while auxiliaries and other staff earn even less, with many living below the poverty line.
The Royal College of Nursing wants a 12.5 percent pay rise, while Unison is calling for a one-off £2,000 ($2,809, 2,325 euros) per person bonus for the year.
Franco Sassi, professor of international health policy and economics at Imperial College, is concerned about the "lack of additional structural funding for the NHS, beyond the commitment of expenditure to face the pandemic emergency”.
Health spending in Britain was already 43 percent lower than in Germany, and 15 percent less than in France before the crisis, he wrote in a note on the university’s website.
The number of doctors -- 2.8 per 1,000 people -- is also "well below EU averages”, while Britain has the second-lowest number of hospital beds in Europe.

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