Yesterday, in my new role as shadow secretary of state for health, I asked Jeremy Hunt to explain the financial crisis growing at the heart of our NHS.
This morning the Conservative chair of the health select committee joined a growing chorus of voices and declared the Government’s NHS spending claims to be “inaccurate” and “false“. Time and time again we have been told this government is investing £10bn more for the NHS, a claim Jeremy Hunt repeated to me this afternoon. However, as members of the health select committee made clear this morning this figure “is not only incorrect but risks giving a false impression that the NHS is awash with cash” and “does not stand up to scrutiny”.
The letter raises very serious questions about the claims that the government has been making, indeed the only way they could be discredited further is if they decided to slap them on the side of a bus and have the Foreign Secretary parade it around the country.
Sadly Jeremy Hunt refused to admit today that the government has simply not given the NHS the resources it needs. He refused to give an accurate account of the spending plans for the NHS, and, of course, he refused to admit that on his watch hospitals have been left in the worst financial crisis in a generation with unprecedented deficits of £2.45bn.
It is becoming increasingly clear that patients and staff are paying the price for the government’s failed policies. A survey carried out by Health Service Journal recently found that as part of sustainability and transformation plans one in three local areas intend to close or downgrade A&E departments within 18 months, one in five expect to close consultant-led maternity services, and that more than half plan to close or downgrade community hospitals.
The secretary of state, of course, said he did not recognise the picture painted by the survey and did nothing to allay the fears raised by it.
I even asked Mr Hunt whether he agreed with the chief executive of the Patients Association who said earlier: “Cuts will only put even greater stress on services already buckling under the pressure of continual cuts, poor workforce planning and lack of proper long term investment.” Sadly, I don’t think he does. If only the government would admit there was a problem, they might finally get around to doing something about it.
Labour will always accept change in the NHS when it is clinically led and done in the best interest of patient care. However, it is clear that the main driver of the sustainability and transformation plans is to force through cuts and try to deliver unrealistic savings. When change is forced through to cut corners it is the patients who pay the price.
I think patients have had enough of broken promise after broken promise from this government on the NHS.
I think it’s time Jeremy Hunt and co stopped the spin and came clean with the British public about the desperate state of the NHS on their watch.
Jon Ashworth is shadow health secretary. To read more of his LabourList articles click here.