While out and about over the past year, local people have asked me about our National Health Service and voiced their concerns about its decline. Since 2010 the Coalition Government, despite its pledge not to touch the NHS, has introduced a massive and costly reorganisation of the health service. This has led to disarray from both a patient and a staff’s point of view. Waiting times are increasing in A&E services across the country, GPs are worried that they will not be able to meet the growing demand in their surgeries and referrals to cancer specialists are taking longer. All the work done by the last government to improve waiting times feels as though it is being undone.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats rushed the Health and Social Care Act 2011 through parliament, ignoring the 300 amendments proposed by Labour to improve the legislation. The Act has at its heart a phrase ‘any willing provider’ – which has opened the door to privatisation of the health service. Private companies are good at winning contracts, but not necessarily good at delivering them. The need to make a profit is always the primary consideration.
The principle behind the NHS, free care at the point of need regardless of a patient’s ability to pay, is fundamental and must not be diluted. Some Tory ‘thinktanks’ are now looking at whether GP practices should charge for surgery appointments. This proposal undermines the very nature of the NHS and we must fight it at every opportunity.
To have a health service fit for the 21st century, we need to have better integration of health and social care. Firstly, the cuts to local government social care budgets need to stop. There is much that can be done early on before a chronic illness or a disability becomes debilitating and local authorities, with their public health duties, are best placed to do that. However, there is still a need for acute care and I fear some Hospital Trusts are reducing the number of beds too quickly, particularly in mental health care where demand for acute care is unpredictable and an element of spare capacity is needed at all times.
In March 2010 I marched up the Holloway Road, along with thousands of others, to defend the Whittington Hospital and I would do it again. Our local hospital provides high quality services, including our valued maternity unit and 24 hour A&E. These are critical services in a community where health inequalities remain stark: men in Hornsey Ward still die 8 years earlier on average than men in Herefordshire.
I have always found the words of Nye Bevan, the founding father of the NHS, inspirational: ‘Society becomes more wholesome, more serene, and spiritually healthier, if it knows that its citizens have at the back of their consciousness the knowledge that not only themselves, but all their fellows, have access, when ill, to the best that medical skill can provide'. In Place of Fear (1952).
We must not lose our NHS.
73 people attended a public meeting at the Birchgrove Community Centre in Fortis Green on Thursday 25th June. Dr Ron Singer, President of the Medical Practitioners Union, Peter Morton and I spoke about the changes to the NHS. Dr Singer pointed out that there was no mandate for the biggest reorganisation of the NHS since its foundation: the Secretary of State no longer has responsibility for the NHS, all contracts have to be put out to public tender and 70% of contracts have gone to private contractors. The additional costs of the reorganisation and the deliberate downgrading of facilities is leading to the demise of our NHS. If Labour do not win the election next year, we will lose our NHS.