Labour has today launched a consultation on new patient rights to be contained within the NHS Constitution. The various proposals include a new right to be treated within 18 weeks – or seen by a cancer specialist within a week – and an interim milestone of two weeks. It also proposes a new right to be offered an NHS Health Check every five years for everyone aged 40-74.
When Labour came to power in 1997 the NHS had been brought to its knees by 18 years of chronic under-funding by the Tories. Massive waiting lists for operations were commonplace, even for cancer patients.
Labour’s consultation process outlines the next steps along the road to making further and significant improvements in the NHS with new patient rights including more convenient access to GP services.
Labour has fought hard to make things better for patients. We mustn’t allow the Conservatives to take us backwards, which is precisely what would happen if they won the next general election. David Cameron’s warm words about his love for the NHS are meaningless; he’s on record last year, for example, saying he thinks Labour’s NHS targets to cut cancer waiting times are wrong.
Let’s just look at what the Tories actually did when they were last in power, compared with Labour’s record since 1997:
* Between 1979 and 1997 the number of people on NHS waiting lists went up by more than 400,000, but since Labour has been in power the number has fallen by almost 600,000.
* In 1997, 284,000 patients were waiting for over six month for treatment. Today, the NHS is delivering the shortest waits on record with the average wait for inpatient treatment running at 4.5 weeks. Waiting times in my city of Derby are among the lowest in the country.
* Two million more operations are carried out each year than in 1997 – including more than double the number of heart operations.
* More than 89,000 extra nurses and over 44,000 doctors have been recruited since 1997.
* There weren’t any NHS walk-in centres in 1997 – today there are 90 around the country including one in Derby.
Like motherhood and apple pie, the Tories say they would like to see waiting times go down, but in the next breath they say governments shouldn’t set mandates or tie the hands of the medical profession with top-down targets. This is further evidence that the Tories haven’t changed and the truth is that they cannot be trusted with the NHS.