Wednesday, July 6

The danger that the aspiring to direct the British Health says that it does not want to depend on “foreign” health workers

When Boris Johnson struggled to breathe in intensive care, two nurses in particular earned his supposedly undying thanks.

Jenny McGee comes from New Zealand and Luis Pitarma from Portugal. Both risked their lives to work in Britain’s first line of defense against COVID, and the prime minister acknowledged the dedication with which they cared for him “every second of the night.” But words are cheap, actions are what count.

Which brings us to his partner in the Tory party, Dido Harding, responsible for the chaotic management of case testing and tracking, and his introduction to take over the public health service (NHS) in England. Your cover letter includes a promise to stop counting with foreign-born doctors and nurses and train others to replace them who were born in the country.

They are not banners that read “Go away, foreigners!” hanging outside every hospital, but it’s hard to imagine a greater spite for the 14% of NHS staff that you were not born in the UK and that you will have arrived at work this morning, and you must have wondered which patients whose lives you will save today would prefer that they were not there.

After a traumatic year of fighting COVID, they are rewarded with being the pawns in a game that can only embolden racist patients. It’s hard to know for sure if this is all part of a radically politicized public campaign to get the job, or an alleged leak designed to damage Harding’s public image and rally NHS staff against him. Either way, they are playing with fire.

Running the NHS is not a comfortable part-time job to pin as a badge for services provided during the Brexit wars, but millions of lives depend on it. Its outgoing director, Simon Stevens, came into office with a lifetime of work experience, earned first in healthcare companies and later as head of healthcare policy during the Labor government. He is also one of the smartest political strategists. Meanwhile, Harding is a former telecoms executive turned president of the semi-public body NHS Improvement, handpicked by her friend Matt Hancock, the Minister of Health, to lead the testing and tracking system that failed to make considerable differences in the course of the pandemic or prevent lockdowns, according to Parliament’s public accounts committee.

170,000 health workers born outside the UK

She is far from the sole author of that failure. But it is easy to see why he is interested in highlighting his ideological proximity to the prime minister – increasingly irritated by Stevens’ independence – rather than his trajectory. For anyone working an overloaded service that would collapse without its 170,000 foreign-born employees, however, this is all incredible.

The expansion of the local workforce is in fact already under way, following plans by Jeremy Hunt, former Minister of Health, whereby the tories they promised the recruitment of 50,000 nurses and male nurses and 6,000 new general practitioners. But if the health system cannot retain the staff it already has, it is like using a strainer to collect water.

Before the impact of COVID, NHS bosses were concerned about the exodus of European workers after Brexit. Now they also fear pandemic burnout and disappointment. Jenny McGee, Boris Johnson’s nurse, resigned in may, arguing that he was tired of nurses “not getting the respect they deserve”, and a recent survey by the Royal College of Nursing revealed that one in three respondents was considering leaving nursing.

Pharmacists, public health directors, and nursing assistants are in such high demand that they are already in the list of sectors with a shortage of personnel. Meanwhile, around 24,000 foreign health workers whose visas would have expired in the past year have received an extension of their status in recognition of their work in the pandemic. A new express visa system for the NHS has attracted thousands of applicants already, but how many will want to come to a country that publicly announces its intentions to get rid of them as soon as possible?

Whether it’s a fair summary of Harding’s proposal to run the NHS or an attempt to attack it, the prime minister must make his position clear. If anyone in government is still concerned about reality, instead of indulging a populist fantasy, they should respond to nationalist messages like this with the public rejection they deserve.

Translation by Ignacio Rial-Schies