Labour is the only party that can save the NHS

04 Oct 2016
We must now unite to stop the damaging privatisation draining the lifeblood of the NHS, reverse cuts and bring back bursaries to train workers to do their jobs.

In all of the abstract discussion about Labour values, it’s easy to forget that one of Labour’s real concrete values is to support and defend the NHS. If you cut the Labour party in half, it would have the letters NHS running through it.

The contrast with the Conservatives could not be greater, especially this Tory government. They are now embarked on their second major reorganisation of the NHS in just six years. Partly this is to clear up the structural mess created by Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act, legislation that Theresa May and all the leading Tories supported. But their deeply damaging drive towards marketisation and privatisation continues, on top of what NHS Providers describes as the “longest and deepest financial squeeze in NHS history”.

This is leading to the deepest ever crisis in the NHS. Almost every target is being missed and waiting times are lengthening for ambulances, for A&E, for cancer referrals and for elective surgery beyond 18 weeks. Leaks have revealed that the new STPs – sustainability and transformation plans – are really Secret Tory Plans to decimate the NHS. Beds, units, departments, and whole hospitals will be closed, even though the population is both growing and ageing.

No party that put patients first would do any of this. And no party which valued the contribution of NHS workers would treat them the way the Tories have. Their record is real pay cuts, cuts to pensions, an increase in unpaid hours and now the attempt to impose unsafe and unfunded new contracts on the junior doctors. This has culminated in the first ever all-out strikes in the NHS.

The “seven-day NHS” is a chimera. Acute services have always been available in the NHS. It is only under the Tories that ambulances have been queueing around the block because there are no beds to admit patients, and that this has been happening on weekdays. The campaign for a seven-day NHS is a device to impose new, worse contracts on junior doctors. There is no logic in singling them out, and consultants, nurses, paramedics and admin staff could all be in the firing line next.

None of this is necessary. The reorganisations themselves are causing huge waste and disruption as providers and commissioners are first told to compete in the “health economies” and then that they must collaborate geographically. The cost of private finance initiatives (PFI) continues to rise and will be over £2bn this year. Because of staff shortages the agency staffing bill has soared to £3.6bn. And Big Pharma continues to milk the NHS, which now even the government weakly recognises. Above all, the greater involvement of the private sector means that NHS has to pay for private profits with funds that could be used for public service.

Labour will aim to drive the private sector rip-off out of the NHS. We will establish a PFI Monitoring Unit to hold the contractors to account, ending excessive charges and payments for shoddy service.

We will be able to redirect these funds to frontline services. Investment will be directed where it is most effective. So, childhood and adolescent mental health services, where three-quarters of all mental health conditions begin will be a major priority. We will promote public health, which itself is a public good and it will save the NHS money.

It is time to end the attacks on NHS workers. Staff need discussion and negotiation, not threats of imposed contracts. They also need to be encouraged to work in the NHS. The terrible decision to abolish bursaries for student nurses, midwives and other professionals and burden them with debt risks exacerbating the staff shortages in the NHS in these key areas.

This abolition of bursaries will be reversed by an incoming Labour government. We will end the scandal that these professionals will incur debt just to work in the NHS.

The difference between Labour and Tory values is extremely stark in relation to the NHS. The Tories are dismantling it. The whole of Labour can unite in defending it.


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