We didn’t believe David Cameron’s promise in 2010 not to cut funding to the NHS. And nearly five years on under the Coalition, the damage caused by incoherent changes and cuts to the NHS is abundantly clear.
There’s a crisis in A&E departments all over the country, there are fewer frontline staff, it’s harder to get a GP appointment quickly and waiting times are increasing. And none of this is the fault of the NHS staff who, despite punitive pay freezes, are working harder than ever before. I’m consistently impressed by the nurses, midwives, doctors, support staff and others who make the NHS what it is.
The NHS is so much more than the sum of its parts and that’s why reducing its importance to just numbers and spending is misguided. It’s vital that we look at the experiences patients and their families receive and the triumphs of the NHS in the round. It’s not a conveyor belt of care but something we’ll all rely on at some point, often at those key life-changing moments we all remember.
It’s time we revived the ‘cradle to grave’ ethos of the NHS founders and reaffirm the promise that the NHS will always be there whenever we need it.
The NHS is important to families and that starts with mum getting high quality antenatal care and developing a birth plan with their midwife. But maternity services too are severely squeezed to offer the choice of type or place of birth that mum wants. It speaks volumes that the Royal College of Midwives went out on strike for the first time in 2014.
SureStart Children’s Centres were an unquestionable success for the last Labour government and something I campaigned for personally when I worked at Daycare Trust. They were highly effective at knitting together health and childcare services for families and brought together people from different backgrounds. Children’s Centres were a key part Labour’s strategy to tackle child poverty yet they have been subject to Cameron’s budget scalpel. Once again, under this government it will be the poorest families that lose out.
Add the loss of SureStart centres to the abolition of NHS Direct and the difficulty many people have getting a GP appointment quickly and it’s easy to understand why so many make A&E their first port of call when they’re worried about a sick child. It’s the only place to turn.
This could soon be a reality here in Brighton Kemptown, where I am standing to be the Labour MP. We are losing a GP surgery and campaigning to have it replaced because 5,500 patients are now scrambling to find a new doctor, many of them parents. Just down the road is the local hospital where staff at A&E are over-stretched and severely under-resourced. And a worried parent could be forgiven for taking their sick child to A&E rather than waiting days for an appointment or trekking halfway across town with them to another GP, that’s if they have managed to get registered at all, Currently around 4,500 patients are still struggling to find a doctor that will take them on.
The closure of one local GP surgery has exposed the failings of the Conservative-led government’s health reforms. Between NHS England, the Clinical Commissioning Group and the Health and Wellbeing Board there is confusion about who has what powers and who should take responsibility for a new GP service. It cannot be acceptable to have over 5,000 people chasing around the City of Brighton and Hove trying to register with a new GP before the end of February next year. No thought seems to have been given to the fact that each of the nearest GP practices here will have to take on another 350 patients which will increase waiting times for everyone. It highlights the lack of a leadership role within the Conservative’s new NHS structures.
The problem is that the Tories know the price of everything and the value of nothing. If you cut services somewhere, the demand doesn’t go away it just goes elsewhere. My concern is that those who are most vulnerable or most in need might fall out of the healthcare system altogether.
That’s why the NHS desperately needs a strategic and holistic approach that concentrates on the experiences of the people who use it. It’s vital for all, but particularly true for families, that they know where to turn when they need the NHS. And I know that Andy Burnham shares my view because his proposals to bring mental health services under the full purview of the NHS reflect exactly what I mean.
It’s right that the NHS is at the centre of our manifesto for 2015. I don’t think it can take another 5 years of being battered and salami-sliced by the Tories who say they care but quite simply don’t share our passion and understanding of its importance.
It’s not going to be easy but we’ve pledged extra money, will speak up for NHS staff, as well as patients because we know the people who depend on the NHS because we are those people.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg don’t understand how vital the NHS is to most people. We do. We built the NHS after 1945, we rebuilt it again between 1997 and 2010 and we’ll do it again. Because the alternative, where profit comes before people, is unthinkable.