For all its many major consequences, one of the few upsides of the pandemic is the way it has helped drawn attention to important things which might otherwise have gone ignored. One example being that after five years of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove telling people to ignore experts, COVID-19 has made it clear doing so comes with a very heavy cost, often involving body bags.
Another area suddenly thrust into the limelight is Public Health, which after a decade of being dismembered by austerity—a cut of £7m in our area alone—was found to be the critical element in preventing the collapse of the NHS.
While successful in preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed, a decade of underfunding hampered the speed and scope of the response, allowing the pandemic to spread further than it ever should have done and contributing to the UK’s leading record in both the human and financial cost of COVID-19.
As usual, some will claim no one could have predicted Public Health cuts would have this impact, but it’s a flimsy excuse when less than a minute on Google is enough to find that many people did warn the Government. Indeed, I wrote to the Treasury over four years ago flagging that the Public Health cuts facing Crawley would have major knock-on consequences for the NHS, resulting in a needless loss of life and higher overall costs for the country than if the service was maintained.
Even without the pandemic, these cuts would have been a mistake. We see clearly in our own town centre and across the neighbourhoods the impact of drug addiction treatment services being scaled back, as the Government were repeatedly warned would happen. Without tackling addiction we will never be able to resolve major issues such as crime and homelessness.
While the Conservatives are now promising the ‘biggest ever’ increase in public funding in their usual too-little-too-late approach, unfortunately the figure being discussed is less than half what they already cut from these services and with no commitment that this is real money rather than yet another exercise in creative accountancy.