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One of the clearest issues at stake in the upcoming General Election will be the very future of our NHS, and the differences between Labour and the Tories on this issue couldn’t be clearer.
Tory austerity has meant that the NHS has been stretched to its limits this winter, with wards closed, operations cancelled and treatments delayed.
The government is driving through £22 billion in cuts by 2020.
Alongside this, in a clear false economy, cuts to social care mean more and more patients languish in hospitals. There is a huge knock-on effecton the NHS, where each year more older people are finding themselves trapped in hospital, simply because there isn’t the care available for them.
Despite the amazing work of our NHS staff – so often demeaned, underappreciated and even demonised by Jeremy Hunt and this government –my constituents know that The Tories have pushed our health service to its limits.
The consequences of the Tories’ crisis in our NHS are very real and not a “small” number of incidents as Theresa May suggested in response to the Red Cross claiming a “humanitarian crisis” in the NHS earlier
In fact, we have seen an unprecedented winter crisis, in which almost a thousand people waited over twelve hours on trolleys this January, compared to just 17 in January 2011. The Government seems content with a 504 per cent increase in the number of patients waiting over four hours for admission since January 2011.
A&E diverts (where patients are sent to other hospitals for treatment) were 86 per cent up on last winter. Urgent operations are now being cancelled in record numbers – 4,093 in 2016, up 27 per cent in
just two years. Recent reports increases in waiting times for hip operations also suggested new levels of rationing – patients in some parts of the country will only qualify for knee and hip replacement operations on the NHS if they can prove pain so exceptional that it prevents sleep.
Further to this, we are also seeing further confirmation of an NHS recruitment crisis – with 2.7 million breaches of the Government’s agency cap in nine months, applications for nursing degrees driven down
23 per cent and 2016 saw only half of junior doctors progressing to specialty training.
UCAS figures show that applications for undergraduate nursing degrees starting in September 2017 are down 23 percent compared with the previous year as the effects of the Government’s scrapping of nursing bursaries becomes clear.
We have also seen reductions in training places and a never-ending pay squeeze.
In this situation, is it really a surprise that twenty-seven hospital trusts have warned they are unable to deliver comprehensive care and on average fifty hospitals are calling in extra support every single day?
But not everyone is doing badly out of the NHS crisis.
Private provision in the NHS has more than doubled since 2010, with the Conservatives privatising our NHS by stealth. Health privateers are earning huge sums at taxpayers’ expense, while health workers have faced a pay freeze. And of course when health services are privatised, the brakes come off the pay of the executives in charge.
If all this wasn’t bad enough, it has been reported the Prime Minister has refused to exclude health services from a possible trade deal with the US.
But there is another way.
To give just one example, the cost of Corporation Tax cuts worth almost £15 billion by 2021 is equivalent to the cost of employing 10,000 teachers, 10,000 police officers and 12,000 nurses, full-time, every year, for a decade. Labour will reverse these deeply unfair tax giveaways and start properly investing in our vital public services, including our NHS.
And in addition to giving the NHS the funding it needs, ending privatisation in the NHS and real action to tackle the crisis in social care would both also help ensure the NHS has the resources it needs.
Whilst this government is using the increasingly discredited concept of austerity to cut our health and care sectors budgets, depriving them of the finance they need to support our sick and older people, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership Labour has clearly opposed the Tories on issue after issue in defence of our NHS.
Labour is not just about opposing the Tories’ failed policies of austerity. It’s also about setting our sights higher about the type of society we want.
We are therefore committed to the NHS both free at the point of use and free at the point of delivery, alongside a genuinely transformative economic policy that is not based on cuts, but instead invests to grow our economy. That is the way to save our NHS and social care.
In contrast, by underfunding and overstretching the NHS as part of their failed, ideologically-driven austerity project, the Tories have pushed health services to the brink.