“The quality care patients deserve. A rescue plan for our NHS” – Ashworth’s speech

Jon Ashworth

Below is the full text of Jonathan Ashworth’s speech on Labour’s NHS ‘rescue plan’.

Last week we heard how a patient at a hospital in Nottingham, 88-year-old Jill Wooley frail and with dementia, was left languishing on a trolley for six hours in a hospital corridor. A heart-breaking picture which really is the image of this general election campaign. Sadly, Jill’s experience is not unique.

In the last year, 625,000 have languished on trolleys in corridors. Our A&E departments have been in year-round crisis. Indeed, September’s A&E waits were the worst performance outside the winter months. Ambulances are unable to off load patients because A&Es are full. A&E patients can’t clear spaces because there are no acute beds to move patients to.

In a typical hospital this winter, there will be no acute beds for the medically fit but vulnerable and elderly people can’t be discharged because social care services have been savaged.

Tomorrow we anticipate further NHS performance data confirming our worst fears of a winter of misery for patients. Just as patients wait longer in A&E, they wait longer for treatment to. Waiting lists for treatment have risen to record levels and patients are increasingly waiting longer for care.

Since Mr Hancock was appointed Health Secretary those waiting over 18 weeks for treatment has risen from 504,000 to 662,000. A record of quite shameful failure.

Cancer waiting times are the worst on record. Last year over 34,000 people with cancer waited beyond two months for treatment. On all eight measures collected 2019/20 performance is lower than the previous year. Meanwhile waits for diagnostic tests are at their highest for 11 years.

After a near enough decade of underfunding and cuts, the axing of over 15,000 beds, brutal slashing of social care budgets and a failure to address chronic workforce shortages of 100,000 our NHS is crying out for a financial rescue plan.

Today Labour is confirming an extra £26bn for our NHS and health services in real terms.

Or on the presentation that Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock prefer an extra £40 billion for our NHS.

Health spending will increase by 4.3% on average annually allowing us to – in the words of the Nuffileld Trust ”to get most waiting times back on track over time” and in the words of the Health Foundation ”this would be a step change after almost a decade of austerity.” Commitments to fund free prescriptions and scrap hospital car parking charges is in addition to this settlement.

Let me explain what this substantial investment – more than the Tories are offering – means for our NHS.

Firstly, the money available for our primary and secondary care services will increase. The so-called NHS England revenue budget will increase by 3.9%. An increase on Tory plans.

We will invest more to relentlessly drive up performance and drive down waiting times. We are determined to see expected standards of care enshrined in the NHS constitution met. Patients should not be told they have to wait longer and longer in pain and distress as they are under the Tories especially cancer patients when we know cancer waits for no one. Long waits risks a person’s health deteriorating further.

Recently we heard how patients at a hospital in Southampton went blind and suffered severe sight loss because of longer waits for treatment. Indeed a pregnant mother was left almost completely blind waiting for care. It was reported ‘she has since given birth and has never seen her daughter’s face.’

Faulty and out of date equipment lead to cancelled operations and increasing delays for patients receiving diagnostic tests results. We will deliver our commitment that less than one per cent of patients should wait longer than six weeks for a diagnostic test.

And because we want cancer survival rates to be amongst the best in the world we will invest to deliver a shift in early cancer diagnosis from 2 in 4, to 3 in 4 cancer cases over the next decade.

So today we are committing an extra £1.5bn of capital for diagnostics. We have fewer MRI and CT scanners per capita than most OECD countries so will increase the numbers of scanners towards the international average.

Overall NHS capital expenditure will increase to meet the OECD average through public investment.

That will mean an extra £15bn capital investment to rebuild crumbling hospitals and invest in the cutting-edge medical technology of the future. Years of Tory cuts have left our NHS with a £6.5bn maintenance backlog which we will clear. The NHS will be literally rebuilt under a Labour government.

We will honour confirming hospital rebuilds but future decisions on hospital rebuilds will be based on not on party political considerations as it is now under the Tories, but based on critical needs, be fully transparent and spread fairly across the regions.

We will institute a Green New Deal for the NHS to ensure trusts can access funding to reduce their carbon footprint and we will institute an NHS Forest with a million extra trees across the estate.

We will ensure an extra £2.5bn investment to upgrade primary and community health facilities.

The Acts of Parliament which founded the National Health Service over 70 years ago set out a vision of: “a comprehensive health service designed to secure improvement in the physical and mental health of the people”.

I don’t believe a comprehensive mental health service has ever been delivered. Yet today stress, anxiety and depression are the biggest cause of sickness absence in our society, responsible for 91 million working days lost every year costing the UK Economy £99bn a year.

Last year the number of prescriptions for anti-depressions hit their highest level – with over 70 million prescriptions dispensed. 100,000 children and young people simply don’t get the mental health support they need.

We will as a government prioritise mental health and wellbeing like never before.

Under our plans we will invest £2bn extra in mental health facilities; old style dormitory wards will be replaced, we will make wards and facilities safer, we will invest in extra beds to end the unacceptable out of areas placements, we will provide more crisis ambulances.

And just as we are prepared to invest more capital in mental health services we will provide an extra £1.6bn revenue for mental health services too, allowing to provide counselling in schools, expand community services for severe mental illness and ensure the high quality crisis care people deserve. The greatest priority for mental health services ever seen, finally delivering real parity of esteem.

Our mission to improve wellbeing does not end with mental health services.

Yesterday, we lost a good friend. We lost someone who I believe was one of the finest Health Secretaries ever to grace the office: Frank Dobson. Frank was a great source of encouragement to me in recent years. He gave me good advice, kept me going. I’ve got to say I wasn’t keen on his filthy jokes, but anyway, that’s not my style.

Frank did say: “Inequality in health is the worst inequality of all. There is no more serious inequality than knowing you’ll die sooner because you’re badly off.” He was so right. Poverty and deprivation mean people get ill quicker and die sooner. We cannot settle for that. After a decade of austerity, life expectancy advances are stalling.

Infant mortality rates have risen four years in a row for the first time since the second world war. Rates of premature deaths including deaths linked to heart disease, lung cancers, COPD are two times higher in the most deprived areas of England compared to the most affluent. We see a higher rate of suicide in more deprived areas and higher rates of addiction.

We will relentlessly target health inequalities as part of our wellbeing strategy. We will legislate with a new Future Generations Wellbeing Act. We will commit to halving childhood obesity by 2030 and tackle the wider determinants of ill health such as banning junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed.

The delivery of health care isn’t just about the NHS as a sickness service – it’s about helping people stay well and lead healthier, happier, longer lives. So rather than cutting public health services as under the Tories, we will invest an extra £1bn a year on the public health grant.

It will mean more investment in smoking cessation services, we will fund 30,000 new treatment places in obesity services. Not only have we committed more money to sexual health services, but we will fully fund the roll out of PrEP for HIV and take steps to work on eliminating new HIV infections.

As many of you know, addition services is a personal priority of mine, having spoken about the my own personal circumstances with my own father who was sadly taken because of drink. We will stop the cuts to addiction services. We will increase addiction services funding by £100m. This investment will secure an extra 27,000 drug and alcohol community treatment places. We will also invest an extra £50m in mental health promotion advisors working across workplaces, care settings, custody settings and community groups providing mental health first aid and resilience training.

Children’s health and wellbeing has always been my priority.

I want our children to become the healthiest in the world. Ambitious, yes but children may be 20 per cent of our population but 100 per cent of our future so its right to be ambitious. We will raise 0-5 health services spending to over £1bn. We will invest more in parenting support and ensuring services become trauma informed. But there is one area where children’s health investment is now more urgent than ever.

Earlier this year we lost our measles free status. Measles is a horrible, life threatening disease and yet vaccination rates have fallen now five years in a row. This isn’t simply about anti-vaxx propaganda on social media – as Mr Hancock claims – but the toxic combination of the Tory Health and Social Care Act reorganisation, the squeeze on primary care and cuts to public health services. We are determined to restore our WHO measles free status, so as a start we will invest £35 million a year in improving vaccination uptake and we will recruit an extra 4,800 health visitors and school nurses too.

Which brings me finally on to workforce. Our NHS is built on the exceptional commitment, dedication and professionalism if NHS staff but after a decade they are facing burn out being asked constantly to do more and more with less and less. One of the greatest privileges of my role has the being able to spend time on the frontline shadowing staff from paramedics, to GPs, to catering staff to nurses, to A&E Consultants.

I have seen the immense pressures but I’ve also the gratitude of patients towards staff. As staff care for us, it’s time we cared for them. I will be a Health Secretary that doesn’t pick fights with staff but works alongside them.

Two weeks ago London Tory spin doctors were briefing they were targeting ‘Rugby League’ towns on the same day it was announced the maternity unit at Pontefract near the Rugby league towns of Castleford and Wakefield was closing because of shortages of midwives. So I know a plan for improving patient care needs a credible costed plan to tackle the workforce vacancies.

We will increase the budget for training, development and education by £1bn a year. We will allow the NHS to recruit internationally ethically but without hindrance. We will bring back a training bursary for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals and we will expand GP training places to 5,000 to recruit more family doctors on local community providing 27 million extra GP appointments. Announcements on allocations for our National Care Service and free personal care will be made in the coming days.

So with a Labour government there will be: £26bn extra in real terms for our NHS. £40bn extra in cash terms. A credible plan for more nurses, midwives, allied health professionals and practitioners. We will safeguard the NHS from any international trade deal that risks seeing it sold off. And yes we’ll end the privatisation of NHS services as well. We’ll give mental health the greatest priority it has ever had. We’ll introduce free prescriptions.

Prevention and wellbeing at the heart of our mission to help people live, healthier, happier, longer lives. The quality care patients deserve. A rescue plan for our NHS. Change is coming for patients and NHS staff – vote Labour for our NHS.

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