I voted against the Health & Social Care Bill, which returned to Parliament this week. It’s a bad bill that erodes local accountability and leaves the door open for more of the rampant contract cronyism and privatisation we’ve seen under the Tories. Labour pushed for amendments that would try and end US corporations buying up GP contracts and stop private companies having a say in how our NHS is run. Sadly, we were unsuccessful.
Patients don’t need another structural re-organisation, they need to know how waiting lists are going to be brought down, desperate staffing shortages tackled and our broken social care system is going to be fixed.
This is a moment of great pressure on the NHS and the social care industry. After a decade of brutal Tory austerity, we went into the pandemic with an NHS already on its knees: with 17,000 fewer NHS beds, 100,000 full-time NHS staff vacancies, hospitals crumbling, public health services cut, GP numbers down. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen just how vital social care workers are and the amazing work they do to look after vulnerable adults, children and older people.
The Government promised to improve social and health care through its Health and Care Bill. However this Bill is not fit for purpose – it doesn’t even mention the term “waiting times” and does not cover wider reforms of the social care and public health systems. This plan isn’t fair and it won’t fix social care, but working families will be hit with an unfair tax rise and many people will still have to sell their home to pay for their social care.
Like many in the health sector, I agree with the objective of more integrated health and care services. But I am concerned that this is the wrong Bill at the wrong time; it contains sweeping changes that will fail to integrate health and social care, erode local accountability, and give powers to the Health Secretary to hand major contracts to the private sector without scrutiny. It will allow further outsourcing permitting the private sector to sit on local boards and it does not reinstate the NHS as the default provider of services. Moreover, it will do nothing to improve the standards of care for patients or to support staff and therefore, does not to improve social care.
That’s why I voted against the Tory’s Health and Care Bill.
The NHS will is facing one of its hardest winters yet. We need a proper solution for rescue and reform that brings waiting times down, including a credible, long-term strategy for NHS staff recruitment and retention. This must come alongside a long-term plan for the care workforce as part of wider reforms to fix social care. Ministers should be relentlessly focused on bringing down waiting times, not another wasteful and unnecessary top-down reorganisation.
The NHS is our greatest institution, established more than 70 years ago to provide universal healthcare free at the point of use. But it deserves more than just weekly claps – I am committed to upholding its founding principles as a comprehensive, integrated, and public NHS that is there for all of us when we need it. I will continue to urge the government to resist any plans to allow further privatisation with no oversight, to repeal the Health and Social Care Act and to provide proper investment and fair pay to our hard working NHS staff.