The NHS is in crisis and its actual survival is for the first time being questioned openly. I believe it can be nursed-back to health as a national treasure and the world’s leading health service. But we need a fresh approach that can only happen when the British public take back control of the NHS from the Conservative Party.
As we have all seen, there are ridiculous queues and waiting times at A & E, and GP surgeries are overrun with requests for appointments. The pandemic didn’t cause this. It may have made it worse, but the problems were there for all to see well before the first lockdown in 2020.
24 hours in A&E isn’t just a TV programme, it is grim reality for patients waiting in pain.
We in the NHS have been warning the Government for years that the NHS is on the edge of a precipice each winter. The warnings have gone unheeded.
In 2010, at the end of the last Labour Government, waiting times for surgery were limited to 4 months. Now more than 7 million people are waiting a year or sometimes 2 for the procedure. GP face to face appointments were then freely available. In an emergency there is no guarantee that an ambulance will be available. So what has gone wrong?
Funding is a mess. Although the government claims to have increased funding to the NHS, the reality is that they haven’t matched the inflation of medical costs that is persistent year in year out, so that relatively speaking the service is underfunded.
The longer the Conservatives are in power the longer patients will have to wait. Staff are under paid and undervalued, in an increasingly stressful and demanding workplace. It’s no surprise that staff retention is at its lowest. Nurses pay has reduced by over 20% in the last 13 years, they have to pay student fees on their training and have had their bursary scheme scrapped. Last year 40,000 nurses left the NHS. It’s no wonder Stroud Maternity can’t find enough midwives to run its unit forcing it into a reduced service. Across the Stroud area 40% of district nurse placements remain unfilled.
Hospitals are clogged-up with people who are fit to be discharged. Currently, of the approx. 1000 beds in Gloucestershire, 219 are filled with patients who don’t need to be there. The problem this time is not money, but lack of carers. This has been caused by poor pay to carers and also an exodus of workers since Brexit. In Stroud we are planning to set up a local scheme where we can bring forward discharges into people’s homes by supporting them with our wonderful volunteer sector. By emptying these beds, the flow through Accident and Emergency wards will be eased and we can abolish queues of ambulances waiting outside for hours on end.
So what should Labour do? This week we launched a National Policy Forum to start shaping the policies we will take to the public in our next manifesto. I expect to see Labour commit to:
· Labour will double the number of medical school places, train 10,000 extra nurses and midwives every year, double the number of district nurses qualifying each year and create 5,000 more health visitors.
· Labour will pay for training new doctors, nurses, and midwives by abolishing the non-dom tax status, because patients need treatment more than the wealthiest need a tax break. If you make Britain your home you should pay your taxes here too.
· Labour will put patients first and enable them to easily book appointments to see the doctor they want – whether it’s face to face, over the phone, or online.
It seems to me, working every day in the NHS, that the Conservative government is willing the health service to fail. It is against their political doctrine to have a service free to all, no matter how rich or poor you are. They voted against its inception in 1947 and I have to wonder if they have ever truly believed in it. In the past few weeks we’ve heard prominent Conservative MPs – in fact, Boris Johnson’s Health Minister – ‘testing the waters’ about introducing fees and effectively privatising access to GPs and emergency care.
We must not let this happen. The NHS, when run properly, is the best health service in the world. It is what make’s Great Britain great and we all must work together to protect it for future generations to come. More doctors, more nurses, shorter waiting times, better care. That’s the difference a Labour government will make.
Dr Simon Opher,
Stroud Labour Party prospective parliamentary candidate