Jeremy Corbyn’s vision for the NHS will rescue it from Tory dismantling
24 Aug 2016The Conservatives have mired our health service in crisis. Our task is to shift resources away from profit-seeking private operators and back to frontline care writes Diane Abbott MP.
For patients and staff, the crisis in the NHS is becoming more apparent with each passing day. Waiting times for cancer treatment, ambulances, GPs, A&E admissions and for almost all elective surgeries are lengthening, and targets are receding into the distance. The Tories have provoked the first ever all-out strike by junior doctors. Many hospital trusts are racking up debt. Civil servants have found plans for a seven-day NHS unfeasible. Jeremy Hunt has misled parliament and the British public.
The glaring mismatch between government rhetoric and reality stems from two things. The NHS is being underfunded, while resources are being siphoned off into the hands of private companies. The effect on the ground has been 50,000 vacancies in the NHS and an all-time low morale among key staff.
By contrast, other parties are doing well financially. One third of NHS contracts awarded by NHS England are going to the private sector. The piecemeal breakup and privatisation of the NHS is under way.
What is happening to the NHS is nothing short of a catastrophe, and threatens to undermine its founding mission statement: to provide a universal health service, free at the point of delivery.
Labour’s task in government will be to rescue the NHS and to secure its future. As an immediate step we will provide the funding for the NHS and allow its budget to grow in line with the economy. The Conservative government is doing the opposite, hacking away at NHS spending as a proportion of GDP.
The NHS under Jeremy Corbyn will shift resources to frontline care and away from profit-seeking private operators. This means bearing down on the costs of the private finance initiative (PFI), which will otherwise be a colossal waste of more than £2bn a year for decades to come. We will closely examine the scope to shift to generic drugs and away from more expensive brands, looking to examples such as Denmark to make savings while ensuring NHS procurement continues to support world-leading drug development.
Staff shortages have left the NHS footing a scandalous agency staff bill, which rose to £3.6bn last year and created a culture of working unpaid to cover for vacant shifts.
By filling vacancies we will take pressure off staff and save the NHS money. All of these savings can be ploughed back into frontline medical care.
Filling positions means being able to train enough nurses and doctors and attract them to the profession. This will involve reversing the Tories’ abolition of bursaries
for student nurses and using a national education service to open the prospect of training to all, for free, throughout their lives.
When doctors and nurses arrive on the job, they need to be confident that they will have a good, secure position where they do not have to endure being overworked, underpaid and forced into strikes. We will end the pay freeze among the health professions and across the public sector and end the government’s war on the medical profession. We will prioritise the recruitment and retention of staff by improving their
conditions. Otherwise, doctors, nurses and others will vote with their feet.
The recent leaked risk register has shown that the government’s seven-day NHS is unworkable without increased resources, as junior doctors always said. The 2012 Health and Social Care Act removed the secretary of state’s responsibility for the NHS, even while he threatens junior doctors and strong-arms NHS trusts. We will renationalise the NHS, preventing its breakup and reintroducing political accountability.
We will address the crisis in social care, which is deepening and is hugely costly to the NHS, by properly funding local authority budgets.
Social care packages benefit patients and are less costly than hospital stays. We will raise the status of mental health sufferers and properly fund their care and treatment.
Some of the most glaring inequalities facing society are in relation to health. Women have borne the burden of Tory underfunding both as carers and as the overwhelming majority of NHS workers. The gaps in life expectancy between rich and poor, and black and white, are stark and widening. And alongside this lottery at birth there is a postcode lottery for care in Britain that must be addressed.
Some of these inequalities arise from social conditions. Poor housing, low educational attainment and low pay are the main determinants of ill-health.
Addressing these relies on a growing economy, not more austerity. Jeremy Corbyn and Labour have set out a plan to build a million homes and create a million jobs through increased government investment and a proper living wage to cut poverty. We will make sure that no one and no community is left behind.
David Cameron used to say a strong NHS requires a strong economy, but he has delivered neither. Labour has the policies and the plan to deliver both.
* From https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/24/jeremy-corbyn-nhs-tory-dismantling-conservatives-health-service