In the 70th birthday year of the NHS, the worst winter crisis on record has caused unprecedented misery for thousands of patients and staff. A&E’s are overstretched and overcrowded, with an increase in numbers of people waiting too long for operations, key performance targets are being missed month after month. In the latest failure of Government health policy, NHS England have announced that the four hour A&E target will now not be met until March 2019. This follows the indefinite suspension of the 18 week treatment target.
NHS England have made clear that core treatment targets cannot be met because of the funding settlement imposed by the Government. As ever, under this Government it is the patients who lose out.
Since 2010 NHS performances have dramatically worsened under this Tory Government. The number of people waiting longer than four hours in A&E has increased from 350,000 in 2009/10 to 2.8 million in 2017/18. The total number of patients on the waiting list in April 2018 was 4.2 million compared with the 2.6 million in May 2010. 551,988 more people are now waiting longer than four hours on trolleys compared to 2009/10 and over 150,000 people have waited longer than 62 days for cancer treatment since July 2011.
According to Labour’s analysis under the current rate of decline, by the end of this Parliament there will be 700,000 more people on waiting lists and over one million more people waiting longer than four hours on A&E.
The next Labour Government’s number one priority will be to fix the financial crisis that the Tories have created in the NHS and social care. The Tory briefings on their plans for NHS funding fall short of what is needed and are not costed. The NHS finance experts have already dismissed this as “simply not enough”.
Prior to 2010, the long term funding increases in the NHS were 4% each year. The Tories’ commitment is just 3.4% – after eight years in which NHS budgets have increased by an average of 1.4% as well as huge funding cuts to social care. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) have said that the NHS needs 3.3% increase in their budget to maintain current levels. This announcement excludes public health budgets, training and capital, which means that they will need an increase of around 3% for health services when we have a childhood obesity crisis, cuts to sexual health and addiction services, workforce shortages and a backlog of £5 billion repairs.
At the last election, Labour set out a fully costed plan and we will more than match Tory commitments. The IFS noted at the last election, “Labour would increase spending relative to current government plans by £7.7 billion in 2017/18”. If the Tories do manage to publish the details of their insufficient 3.4% increase in NHS funding, then Labour’s plans to raise taxes for the top 5% and big businesses will top up NHS spending growth to around 5% which many in the health sector are saying is needed.
To fund the rise, the Government has hinted at tax rises, but they have not specified which taxes will rise, who these taxes will affect, and when these changes will be made. The Government has also hinted at further borrowing, but again have set out no detail as to how much additional borrowing- and what impact this will have on the public finances.
The Government’s NHS funding pledge is therefore uncosted and unfunded.
As you will know there is a recruitment and retention crisis. The NHS are struggling because of a lack of staff, because of the lack of funding there is an increase pressure on doctors and nurses who are having to work double shifts and use foodbanks to provide for their family. I welcome any doctors who are wanting to come and work for such an invaluable service, which is why I was shocked to see reports of doctors having their visas turned down and being prevented from entering the UK to work for the NHS.
The Government have taken NHS staff for granted and created a workforce crisis in the NHS which is causing misery for patients. Hospital wards and GP surgeries are chronically understaffed this then has the knock on effect is waiting lists which are spiralling out of control. All this threatens the quality of care that patients will receive.
Figures published by NHS improvement in March show that across the NHS there are more than 100,000 staff vacancies, including 40,000 nurses and 11,000 doctors, 12,000 nursing support staff and 11,000 scientific technical and therapeutic staff.
The removal of financial support for students of health professions has seen applications for health degrees plummet. Applications for nursing and midwifery degrees fell by 23% last year and a further 10% this year. Ministers claimed that the removal of bursaries would fund an extra 10,000 nursing places, but in fact 700 fewer students have started nursing degree courses this year compared to last. According to the British Medical Journal, between 2001 and 2010 the number of nurses rose by an average of 1.61% every year. However from 2010 to 2014 there was a rise of just 0.07% which is 20 times lower than the previous decade. Numbers of community nurses, mental health nurses and learning disability nurses have all fallen since 2010.
The Government is also failing GPs as well. In 2015 Ministers promised and extra 5000 GPs by 2020 but numbers have fallen by 1000 instead. GP training places are going unfilled and there has been no progress on targeting to recruit 2000 GPs from abroad.
The Government’s chaotic approach to Brexit is also threatening the ability of health employers to recruit from overseas. The number of nurses and midwives coming to work in Britain from Europe fell by 89% in the year after the UK voted to leave the EU and the number of doctors coming to the UK from the EU fell 9% in 2017 according to the General Medical Council.
A central part of Labour’s plan to rebuild and revitalise the NHS is our determination in reversing privatisation and to return our health service into expert public control. At the election, Labour pledged to repeal the Health and Social Care Act and to reinstate the powers of the Secretary of State for Health to have overall responsibility for the NHS.
The amount of NHS money that is being directed to the private sector is rising. Since 2010, NHS expenditure on private health providers has doubled from £4.1 billion in 2009/10 to £ 9 billion in 2016/17. The Department of Health figures show that the percentage of funding allocated to private sector providers has grown from 4.4% in 2009/10 to 7.7% in 2016/17.
In 2016 private providers held the contacts for 39% of the community care contracts in England.
Bed shortages have forced NHS hospitals to turn to the private sector which has meant that spending on outsourced elective treatments to the private sector rose significantly from £241 million in 2015/16 to £381 million in 2016/17. NHS Trusts have also been forced to increase their expenditure on private ambulances by a fifth in just two years, despite patient safety concerns.
The Tories’ expansion of the internal market has led to one third of contracts being awarded to private providers since the Health and Social Care Act. Some of these contracts are care and their failures have wasted millions of pounds of public money.
The NHS is Labour’s proudest achievement and one of the most powerful engines for social justice we have ever seen. Every day NHS staff go the extra mile to care for others. They have the appreciation and gratitude of each and every one of us.
Labour has, and will, always stand up for our NHS and protect the service for generations to come. However, the Tories have fought tooth and nail against the creation of the NHS in Parliament – voting against it 22 times – and now the NHS services under this Tory Government have been pushed to the brink by the biggest financial squeeze in NHS history, as well as cuts to public health and social care.
I can assure you that I will continue to fight the Government on giving the NHS more funding and also to reverse the plans for privatisation. The NHS is an invaluable service that help people when they are in need of medical attention and given the undue pressure that the NHS has been placed under from terrorist attacks and the recent rise in crime the NHS more than ever needs extra support so they can continue to provide the best quality care that they can.