Boris Johnson leads nation in applause for NHS anniversary

PM’s call to support NHS rings hollow for many amid ministers’ failure to commit to staff pay rise and requested emergency funding

Andy Gregory
Sunday 05 July 2020 18:14 BST
Nationwide applause marks 72nd anniversary of NHS

Boris Johnson has led another round of applause for healthcare workers on the anniversary of the NHS’s founding.

People across the nation were encouraged to show their appreciation for health service staff by clapping outside their homes – a gesture adopted during the coronavirus pandemic.

Politicians such as health secretary Matt Hancock and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer were seen applauding, as were people in communities across the UK, with some playing music, dancing and others in Cambridge watching a Spitfire flyover.

The prime minister called for another clap on Friday as he announced his desire to permanently replace nationwide coronavirus restrictions with localised measures, on the eve of the reopening of pubs, restaurants, cinemas and other businesses.

Mr Johnson, who hosted the NHS workers who tended to him at St Thomas’ Hospital during his struggle with coronavirus in the garden of No 10 on Sunday afternoon, urged the public to clap for “those who have worked tirelessly and selflessly to help the nation get through this pandemic”.

But many on social media were cynical about the government’s re-employment of the Clap for Carers gesture, which fell on the same day as criticism from NHS bosses that chancellor Rishi Sunak was failing to live up to his pledge to give the service “whatever it needs” after refusing to give £10bn emergency funding to help preparations for a second wave of Covid-19.

It also came two days after Mr Johnson told LBC: “I do not believe in gestures, I believe in substance”, while saying that he would not take a knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters.

On Sunday morning, Mr Hancock claimed that the government “absolutely want to reward NHS staff for what they’ve done” during “the toughest year in the NHS’s 72-year history”, but failed to answer on the issue of a pay rise for lower paid staff members.

While some on social media reported clapping, many others voiced their support for the NHS but said the clap had become a “hollow gesture”. Some said they had chosen to donate money or to stay indoors to ease the strain on the service instead.

Others called for the health service to be free at the point of use for everyone living in the UK.

Campaign group Keep Our NHS Public tweeted: “On the NHS 72nd birthday there are children going without cancer treatment because their parents can’t afford the migrant health surcharge. Let that sink in a minute.”

Mr Johnson, who early in his career voiced his opposition to the “monolithic, monopolistic” NHS, has been keen to emphasise his personal support for the health service and its staff since he was hospitalised with Covid-19 in April.

On Sunday evening, he tweeted: “This evening I was honoured to host those who looked after me at St Thomas’ Hospital at Downing Street, as we celebrate 72 years of our incredible NHS.”

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