The National Health Service turned 70 last month. It was lovely to see events around the country marking the occasion.
The birthday provides an opportunity for us to thank the volunteers and members of staff who ensure that the NHS is among the best healthcare providers in the world.
It also allows us an opportunity to reflect on where we have come from and where we are going.
In January 2010, David Cameron launched his general election campaign saying: ‘I’ll cut the deficit, not the NHS.’
He inherited patient satisfaction rates at a record high, waiting times at a record low and a workforce drawing a salary and pension that rewarded their dedication and hard work.
The verdict after eight years is clear, the Conservatives are not just undervaluing and underfunding the service, they are opposed to it altogether.
And why wouldn’t they be? The NHS is the antithesis of everything they stand for- a publicly funded, not for profit social resource that makes no value judgements of its users. A common good.
This underfunding doesn’t just result in dangerously overworked staff and under-resourced hospitals, it leaves an open door for key services to be taken over by the private sector. Bit by bit we lose our most treasured public asset.
Examples can be seen at every level. Here in Leeds, the local hospital trust was ready to set up a wholly-owned subsidiary company, where non-clinical staff would be taken out of the NHS altogether.
It was only after a backlash from unions and interventions from the Leeds Labour MPs that the decision was put on hold. At a meeting with the trust, I suggested that they adopt Leeds City Council’s Civic Enterprise model where a wholly owned subsidiary is setup but staff stay in the public sector.
I am pleased that they are pressing forward with this, at least in the short term. This must be a long term solution.
It is not just hospitals that are feeling the burden. Week after week, I talk to people who ask me why their local GP has left and been replaced by ever changing locum doctors, why they struggle to get appointments and why the service they receive when they do get an appointment is unsatisfactory and in some cases negligent.
I talk to GP partners who tell me that the funding from national Government is so poor, they are better off working for someone else than taking over a practice, that their pay slip looks exactly the same today as it did eight years ago and that they are working longer and harder just to keep their surgeries running.
This has led to the situation where small GP partnerships are being bought out by larger companies who run them with an ‘economy of scale’ model, often at the expense of patient care.
I spoke recently with a primary care nurse working within a GP practice. She was angry that the money ringfenced for nursing did not apply to her or any of her primary care colleagues.
She has not seen any of the pay rises of her hospital equivalents. We need to fix this.
The fanfare around the NHS’s 70th birthday is welcome but we must remember that the best way to honour the occasion is to insist that this Conservative Government value the service and those who work within it. #
Alex Sobel is Labour MP for Leeds North West