Johnson’s Legacy: Misconduct, Death, and NHS in Crisis

Prime minister Boris Johnson should have resigned a long time ago, but whoever in his party replaces him will be no better for the NHS or for working people.


by NHS Nurse Holly Johnston and Keep Our NHS Public’s Tom Griffiths.

Keep Our NHS Public welcomes the resignation of Boris Johnson while condemning his decision to hang on until a new leader is appointed. We say he must go now.

In his blithely defiant resignation speech, Johnson said of being pushed out by his own party, ‘them’s the breaks’ – but this won’t cut it for the grieving families whose relatives died unnecessarily during the pandemic, those struggling to heat their homes in the coming winter, the NHS staff using foodbanks, or the patients languishing on waiting lists for urgently needed care.

Johnson’s self-serving, ideological muddle of a speech displayed zero self-awareness. He went on to say, ‘I’m immensely proud of what we’ve done, getting us all (sic) through the pandemic’ and later, ‘I’d like to thank the NHS, [which] helped extend my leadership.’

His statements are wildly at odds with the experience of ordinary people throughout the country and despite his attempts to sell his leadership as a success, we will remember his legacy as consistently getting the big calls wrong in relation to the NHS and the health of the population.

“After hearing Johnson’s speech today, it’s clear that he struggles to comprehend the reality of his impact on Britain. At a time when poverty and the cost of living continues to rise, he spoke of all the grand achievements he has made while in power. But Johnson’s premiership will be remembered for its hypocrisy. He enjoyed making the rules but refused to follow them himself.” – Alia Butt, NHS Psychologist and psychotherapist (Keep Our NHS Public NHS Staff Voices co-founder)

We’ve been critical of the Conservative Government’s disastrous record on the NHS for years prior to Johnson’s tenure in number 10. It’s nonetheless striking that under his stewardship we’ve seen the biggest crisis in staffing, waiting times and the passing into law of some the most dangerous NHS legislation in the Health and Care Act. Not to mention that, even as the 6th richest nation on the planet, for a significant period of time the UK had the worst death toll per capita in the world. Surely, this kind of ‘getting us through the pandemic’, is to be lamented rather than celebrated.

Contempt for NHS Staff and Patients

Throughout, Boris Johnson has shown only contempt for NHS staff. Wages and conditions have consistently deteriorated during his leadership. Staff have been used as political fodder at a time when they are struggling to make ends meet. It’s not for nothing we’ve seen the formation of huge grassroots campaigns like ‘NHS Workers Say No!’ in response to the misery faced by NHS workers in dangerously understaffed workplaces, and insulting pay offers for health and care workers.

“The NHS is now facing its biggest crisis ever, with underfunding, 110,000 staff vacancies, bed cuts, ambulance services collapsing, record high waiting lists now over six million, and a massive maintenance backlog of around £9 million. With life expectancy stalled and poverty and inequality increasing, population health continues to suffer from the adverse effects of overall economic mismanagement.” – Dr John Puntis (co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public)

The Real Covid Legacy

“The People’s Covid Inquiry a year ago uncovered serious malpractice by the Prime Minister and his Government in their handling of the pandemic. Our report entitled Misconduct in Public Office was submitted to the police as a matter for criminal investigation. A major factor was a grave lack of preparedness and consequent fatal delay. It is of interest to note that part of the early mindset encompassed herd immunity and letting matters take their own course. Boris has shown equal disregard and disrespect for his own party in blaming his departure on the herd instinct!” – Michael Mansfield QC, Chair of the People’s Covid Inquiry (Feb-Dec 2021)

Throughout the pandemic, the government has claimed time and again they’ve done a good job, when in reality we’ve seen countless avoidable deaths, failed private contracts for their friends and big party donors, inadequate supply, quality and guidance for PPE and a failed track and trace system. Theirs is a legacy of parties during lockdown while NHS staff went without seeing their families and dying patients were unable to have visitors.

In a pompous, misrepresentative (and possibly libelous) resignation letter addressed to the prime minister, Conservative Nadhim Zahawi MP, stated:

“I am heartbroken, that [Johnson] hasn’t listened and that he is now undermining the incredible achievements of this Government at this late hour. No one will forget getting Brexit done, keeping a dangerous antisemite out of No 10, our handling of covid and our support for Ukraine in its hour of need.”

After all the sleaze and scandals, the alleged sexual assault, the barefaced lies over ‘partygate’ and the nearly 200,000 deaths from Covid, that anyone in Government can frame the Conservatives’ record in a positive light is in itself ‘incredible’ and shows yet again how out of touch they are and how desperately we need change. Even Johnson’s critics, now seeing him as an electoral liability, are blind to the devastation and destruction their party has caused. Zahawi is right about one thing however – we will not forget the Government’s gross mis-handling of the Covid pandemic. We are still awaiting a final response from the Metropolitan police over what our lawyers believe to have been ‘misconduct in public office’ demonstrated by Johnson and his cabinet throughout the crisis.

Waiting Times at Record High

“Our NHS is on its knees. Millions are suffering whilst left on waiting lists. A result of 12 years of Tory government. Changing the man at the top won’t change that.” – Dr Sonia Adesara (Keep Our NHS Public)

As we’ve reported elsewhere, one of the key areas the Government’s NHS policy is failing is the appalling waits for ambulances in England. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine estimated that there were at least 4,519 excess deaths in England in 2020-21 as a result of overcrowding and stays of 12 hours or longer in emergency departments. A report by Association of Ambulance Chief Executives showed that the monthly average number of patients with handover delayed >60 minutes in 2021 had almost doubled to 15,500 (the target for handover time is <15 minutes). The West Midlands Ambulance Service is now predicting it will no longer have the capacity to respond to emergency calls by August this year.

Will the next conservative prime minister make things any better? We can certainly hope so, but it seems highly unlikely, particularly since some of those who have consistently defended Johnson are positioning to stand as candidates. One of them is ex-merchant banker Sajid Javid who gave a present to the NHS on its recent 74th birthday by resigning as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, but who lied about the building of 48 hew hospitals and also claimed the NHS did not need any more money.

The Health and Care Act

“Rather than seeking solutions to these problems, there has only been an obsessive preoccupation with structural re-organisation as exemplified by the problematic Health and Care Act, and an attempt to put the blame on overworked and underpaid staff.” – Dr John Puntis

The Health and Care Act deliberately breaks up the NHS and facilitates the spread of private interests. It does nothing to address the current state of emergency the NHS and will drastically worsen this by imposing costly and disruptive reconfiguration. The discharge of patients without a care plan has now been legalised, endangering their ongoing management and safety. The Act allows the Secretary of State to interfere early to determine local reconfigurations including hospital closures, thwarting public consultation, and weakening the say that local authorities and councillors have on NHS plans, further enlarging the democratic deficit and lack of accountability.

Years of hard campaigning will be needed to undo the damage done to the NHS by this wrecking ball legislation. Again, this is the legacy of Boris Johnson and the Conservative party. What the population needs, and what the NHS needs is not just a new Prime Minister but an entirely new Government with new policies designed to return the NHS to its founding principles and promote population wellbeing by tackling the social determinants of health.

What Now?

While we welcome Boris Johnson going, we must remember the Conservative Government’s ideological attack on a publicly provided NHS remains and must be resisted.

“We demand much more from our politicians in the coming months in terms of righting these many wrongs. The Johnson legacy will forever by epitomised by the Covid memorial wall and the blatant misconduct of the prime minister and his cabinet and officials while holding public office.” – Dr John Puntis

“We cannot trust this government to rescue our NHS. That work will have to be undertaken by the many health campaigns across the country, many of whom have come together under the banner of the SOS NHS campaign. Instead of waiting on politicians to sort something out, we appeal to ordinary people everywhere to make your voices heard. It is our NHS and we have to use this moment to make sure our voices are heard.” – Mike Forster (National Chair of Health Campaigns Together)

“We call on the politicians and parties in opposition to vigorously and vocally expose the many lies that have been told, to stand up for public services, whether in health, care, education and transport, and to rebuild morale and pay justice for the public servants who work for us. Join with campaigners to help get rid of this government and to rebuild the NHS we need – funded to be stronger, safer, back 100% in public hands and available to everyone.” – Tony O’Sullivan (co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public)

While NHS Campaigners and healthcare workers will be glad to see the back of Johnson and some of his cronies, we need the opposition to call for an integrated, publicly owned health and care system with a restorative pay rise to ensure the future of the service, and to stand shoulder to shoulder with working people trying to better their pay and conditions.



Holly Johnston is an NHS Nurse based in Sheffield and is a founding member of NHS Workers Say No! Tom Griffiths is the Head of Campaigns at Keep Our NHS Public