opinion pieces

Coronavirus is turning the NHS into a charity

The coronavirus pandemic in the UK has forced the already under-funded NHS to require donations in order to survive and ensure adequate healthcare

The coronavirus pandemic in the UK has brought to light how woefully underfunded the NHS is, so much so that it has been forced to become something of a charity case.

Just today Captain Tom Moore, a 99-year old WWII veteran has hit £20m in donations for NHS Charities Together following his ‘100th birthday walk’ in which he completed 100 lengths of his garden.

Unfortunately, not all donations are as wholesome. Currently there is a challenge circulating on Instagram called the ‘Run for Heroes’, created by Virgin Money Giving. It entails running 5k, donating £5 to the NHS and nominating 5 friends to do the same, a seemingly wholesome way to entertain us all during lockdown.

However, it has come to light that Richard Branson’s platform does not donate 100% of the money to the NHS, and instead skims off 2% for a platform fee and a further 2.5% for payment processing fees.

Since this information became public knowledge, Branson has leapt to the defence and has reiterated Virgin is not profiting off the donations, yet continues to charge processing fees

On the surface this does not seem unreasonable, but this means that of the £3,402,284.65 currently donated (as of 9pm on the 17 April 2020), Branson’s company has taken £153,102.809.

As a frame of reference, Branson’s personal wealth according to Forbes is $4.4bn (around £3.5bn). Surely the billionaire, who has been living on a tax-free British Virgin Island for the last 14 years, could afford to pay this from his own pocket and donate the money raised by hard-working people to the NHS, the intended recipient.

It is important to note that the NHS is a tax-funded service, and by living on his private island, this makes Branson exempt from paying tax on personal assets or companies registered to the island. His Virgin Healthcare company working with the NHS has had around £2bn worth of deals, and has not paid any corporation tax in the nearly 10 years they have existed, due to the fact they have been operating at a loss.

Key to the last general election were promises centred around the NHS need for more funding, estimated at 4.3% by the OBR. Labour’s manifesto highlighted the gross shortages it faced, including a deficit of 43,000 nurses and 15,000 hospital beds.

The coronavirus has exacerbated these issues and forced many retired healthcare workers and students into both front-line and supportive work. It has also forced multiple temporary hospitals to be built rapidly and conversions of stadiums to makeshift ‘Nightingale’ hospitals to help the healthcare service cope.

An unnamed student nurse says, “They haven’t even mentioned that second year nurses are being called in, is it because they don’t want the public to worry and panic that they need even more help? They’ve reached and got the retired, second and third year students now. It shows how understaffed the NHS is.”

The Conservatives have a tumultuous relationship with the NHS spanning decades, making their current campaign focused on protecting the service seem ironic. The funding has consistently been under the threshold stated, and problems were bound to come to a head eventually.

In light of his recent hospitalisation, Boris Johnson has highly praised NHS workers yet this sits poorly with many following his classification of many healthcare workers as ‘unskilled’ based on their income. These people have since become essential workers, and it is appalling that their level of pay does not reflect their vital role in society.

In 2017, Boris Johnson voted against the motion to scrap the 1% pay-rise cap for NHS workers and was reported to have celebrated when the motion failed.

The NHS is meant to be a tax-supported service for the masses and is rapidly becoming a charity case within the UK that we are asked to donate to, in addition to taxation.

Coronavirus has highlighted the gap between the funding currently allocated to protecting the nation’s health, and the true amount that is needed. And it’s scary.

Next election, remember this. Remember how Boris bragged about shaking hands with coronavirus patients before contracting the disease himself. Remember the desperate pleas from the healthcare workers for PPE, that the government has been unable to secure, forcing people to work in unsafe conditions. And remember that a service funded by taxes has had millions of pounds donated solely to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Think carefully and use your vote next election to ensure the NHS gets proper funding from the beginning so that this doesn’t happen again.

To donate to the NHS, visit

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