Jonathan Ashworth: Theresa May is overseeing a collapse in hospital standards – it’s time she sat up and took notice

17th March, 2017 2:00 pm

Since Theresa May took over as prime minister last summer, patient standards in the NHS have collapsed.

Consumed by Brexit, the prime minister is letting her domestic agenda slip and allowing conditions in our public services to deteriorate.

The standard of seeing 95 per cent of A&E patients in four hours has been all but abandoned – Jeremy Hunt has told trusts they don’t have to meet the target until April 2018.

It’s worth remembering that when Labour in power the standard was 98 per cent- revised down to 95 when the Tories took office in 2010. For the next year the target is effectively now 90.

But this isn’t the only pledge that seems to have gone by the wayside. The 62 day cancer wait target hasn’t been met for three years. The 18 week treatment target and the 8 minute ambulance response time were both missed last year.

Most recently we learned that the number of patients having to be treated in mixed sex wards is running at 50% higher than last year. Another broken promise from an increasingly dated Conservative manifesto.

It’s not a surprise these standards are being sidelined – the Tories never really believed in them. Liam Fox – now back in the Cabinet – led the charge against them when labour introduced them. And this attitude of laissez-faire neglect runs through the current approach.

It seems this prime minister just doesn’t think these standards matter to patients. For her the NHS is just another public service to be faced down, a problem to be managed.

The story is she just dismisses calls for help for the NHS, letting it be known she cut policing budgets by 25 per cent. I would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

She can’t accuse the NHS of “crying wolf” over a funding squeeze that has driven such a dramatic decline in the standard of services.

An extra £2 billion for social care in the Budget is better than nothing. But we need a long term, sustainable funding settlement for social care. Now the chancellor has abandoned the NICs increase that raised this extra £2 billion Tory ministers urgently need to guarantee that the this social care money will actually be delivered.

The reality is becoming clearer than ever. Years of squeezed health budgets are taking their toll, as overworked and underpaid staff struggle to keep the service running.

The winter has seen treatments delayed, services cut back, and even urgent operations being cancelled in higher numbers than before.

We can’t go on like this – it’s time Theresa May sat up and took notice and gave the NHS and its brilliant staff the support they need to get services running to the standards patients expect. She can’t keep just moving the goalposts and think that no one will notice.

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